It’s here. It’s finally here.
Professional football is back, and even though the first game of the year may have been excruciatingly boring, the new NFL season is sure to be a good one. Story-lines will develop, upsets will shock the nation, and a new champion will be crowned in February. All fan bases are hopeful that their team will be the one to take home the Lombardi trophy, but that hope cannot materialize for all. The consensus on the Baltimore Ravens is split. Some believe that the Ravens are poised to compete for a Super Bowl, while others believe the Ravens won’t even make the playoffs.
It is difficult to project how Baltimore’s season will turn out, as the Ravens have put themselves through major changes since last year. The offense has adopted a new identity, and the defense moved on from key players. Like all things in football, Baltimore’s playoff fate will be decided on how many match-ups they win. Match-ups won on the field turn to higher numbers in the win column.
But as you will see, I am less confident in Baltimore’s ability to win these match-ups than last year.
Probable Wins: 7 – Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals (x2), San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets
Toss Ups: 5 – Cleveland Browns (x2), Pittsburgh Steelers (x2), Houston Texans
Probable Losses: 4 – Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams
Season Record Prediction: 9-7
Placement Prediction: 2nd in AFC North
Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think the Baltimore Ravens will win the division, and I doubt they will have an easy path to the playoffs.
First off, the Ravens are trying to redefine how offense is played in the National Football League. It might work in the long run, but the Ravens’ first year of running the back-to-the-past, Mike Vick offense is bound to experience hiccups. The interior of the offensive line is nothing special. Left guard will be Baltimore’s biggest question mark, but Matt Skura needs to improve in year two in the middle of the line. Furthermore, Marshal Yanda is getting older, and it would not be surprising to see his power begin to slip by the end of the year.
Aside from Willie Snead, the Ravens will be relying on two rookie wide receivers to carry the air attack to relevance. But are Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin ready to? Both receivers are extremely talented and loaded with potential, but it might be too soon to expect the world out of the respective first and third-round picks. And what about Lamar Jackson? It’s no secret that he is electric on the ground, but will Jackson be able to win games with his arm and not his legs? Jackson demonstrated some, but not much improvement in the limited time he had in the preseason. If he cannot deliver the ball like an NFL quarterback should (on a regular basis), Baltimore won’t have much fun when the ground attack is neutralized.
The defense, Baltimore’s traditional strength, is not without problems heading into the season either. Baltimore lost key starters, who functioned as the team’s leaders. Terrell Suggs is in Arizona, Eric Weddle is in Los Angeles, and C.J. Mosley is in New York. The loss of Suggs and Weddle hurts, but the Ravens were at least able to find replacements. Baltimore brought in Earl Thomas as an upgrade to Weddle, and Pernell McPhee as a slight downgrade to Suggs. But where the Ravens will really hurt is at inside linebacker, as Baltimore was unable to find a suitable replacement for Mosley. Mosley is one of the most prolific inside linebackers in professional football, and the Ravens are left with the second-year undrafted, Chris Board, likely to take over the role next to Patrick Onwuasor. I don’t mean to put Board down, but the shoes he will try to fill are too big for him.
The Ravens are just not as talented on defense as they were last year, and in an offensive transitional year, where no one is really sure what quality of football will be on the field, I simply cannot predict the Ravens to go past 9-7. That being said, I think the Ravens will be a decent team this year, but if they are going to the playoffs, the Ravens will need to carve a path as a wildcard team.