Head Coach: John Harbaugh
2014 Record: 10-6
Postseason: 30-17 W in Wild Card vs. Pittsburgh; 35-31 L to New England in Divisional Playoffs
Odds to win Division: +160
Odds to win Conference: +1000
Odds to win Super Bowl: +2300
Season Wins: Over 9 (-135); Under 9 (+115)
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QB Joe Flacco and RB Justin Forsett are the keys to a to a pass and rush game which finished No. 13 and No. 8 in the NFL, respectively.
Joe Flacco has been ticking strong for seven seasons straight, but the Baltimore Ravens now have a suitable backup in Matt Schaub. Flacco brings size and arm strength to the QB position but having a strong second unit QB is a boon for the Ravens who can seek to rest Flacco on occasion now.
Head coach John Harbaugh said he “played really well and kind of proved himself” in the 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints.
Also, in fairness, his interception was partly a product of a great play by Saints’ CB Damian Swann and a misread and poor positioning by WR Jeremy Butler. School is as competent as any backup in the league, simply. Flacco is expected to see increased time in the next two games as Schaub settles into a true backup role of spottier usage.
At the RB position the Ravens signed Justin Forsett to a multi-year extension, and he rushed for 1,266 yards last year. He struggled down the stretch of the regular season, but proceeded to turn it back on in the playoffs. Lorenzo Taliaferro is the backup to Forsett and he’s a different type of back as a slasher and cutter.
Dorsett is more reliant and power and trekking straight through holes. Javorius Allen will be in the mix, too, but may be most utilized as a third-down back and goal line option. Allen is also a good pass-catching threat, so he’ll be featured in flex plays often. The Ravens ranked No. 8 in the NFL last season in rush offense with 126.2 yards per game and this year should be very similar. Forsett led the team in yards per carry in addition to yardage, managing 5.4 yards per rush. Tallaferro was good for 4.3 yards and had four TDs on the year.
At WR the Ravens have some young talent in the mix but it remains to be seen what the unit can actually be.
Steve Smith is the No. 1 option, but he’s fading and in the twilight of his career. He’s still capable of big plays, nevertheless. It’s also not like 1,000-plus receiving yards are an indicator of a guy about to fall off the face of the earth either. Smith can still get it done.
Rookie WR Breshad Perriman of UCF will bring some quickness and Maxx Williams could become a punisher at TE, especially in red zone plays that aren’t going to the backs. Maxx will likely start Week 1 and he showed in the first preseason game that he is an absolute freak physically when he leaped over Saints’ CB Pierre Warren.
Maxx only had two catches in the game, but both were nice flashes that show what he can be even this year as a rook. Perriman and Maxx are the prospects that Baltimore needs to improve its pass attack, which ranked 13th in the NFL last season. Many analysts were beaming over Baltimore’s draft hauls (which also included Carl Davis, Za’Darius Smith, Tray Walker, Nick Boyle, Robert Myers and Darren Waller in rounds 3 through 6).
Also in the backfield, Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown are good short-yardage options, but neither are likely to make many big plays. They’ll still see time.
Baltimore has one of the best OLs in the league. RG Marshal Yanda is one of the best at his position and he’s capable of bodying up the biggest for short-yardage plays while also making big blocks. He’s a beast. LG Kelechi Osemele is now in his fourth season and is a great pass protector and is good with blocking.
C Jeremy Zuttah is good at making pass protection calls, though he may have trouble keeping the bigger nose guards off the line. RT Rick Wagner is also an improving talent in the NFL, and veteran Eugene Monroe will start at LT. James Hurst will also see time at LT, but the position will likely be the weakest on the Ravens’ line. Depth may be problematic, but this unit is the absolute best with its top-end talent in the fold and healthy.
DC Dean Pees will implement more pressure this season, but a lot of that is reliant on stronger play from the CB position. The Ravens played a 3-4 last year but didn’t show pressure against the better teams, while demolishing the likes of Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. The Ravens don’t trust themselves enough on the defensive end of the ball to challenge the league’s elite QBs, but that has to be a focal point this season, to attack premier QBs as much as the bums.
Dumervil had 17 sacks last year and Suggs had 12, as Baltimore ranked No. 2 in total sacks with 49. The overall results are a lot prettier than a more analytic breakdown.
On the DL the Ravens will miss Haloti Ngata, and will seek to replace him with second-year man Timmy Jernigan. While Ngata was dominant enough to draw double teams, Jernigan is a formidable pass rusher and penetrator in his own right. At NT Brandon Williams is the team’s top lineman and he’s great against both the pass and the run, showing surprising mobility for a guy that is 6’1” 335 pounds.
Chris Canty will start at end but the Ravens need him to stay on the field, even if playing the entire season is a bleak prospect for the injury prone vet. Lawrence Guy and DeAngelo Tyson are both worth keeping an eye on, as is rookie Carl Davis. That trio will be rotated through the end positions.
The Ravens have a lot of talent at LB, but most of it is concentrated on the right. Both its outside LBs (Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil) are great pass rushers but are on major decline at this point in their respective careers. The Ravens try to keep them off the field to keep them both fresh while playing, but the defense needs their experience and playmaking too.
Courtney Upshaw can spell both easily and rookie Za’Darius Smith is to be used a lot on third-down pass rushing plays. The inside is problematic in its own way, too, where Daryl Smith is entering his 12th NFL season. ILB C.J. Mosley comes with high billing and is extremely fast laterally on the field.
However, Baltimore again has depth issues here and keeping its starters fresh could remain a challenge at times.
The Ravens’ secondary is pretty average. Starting CBs Jimmy Smith and Ladarius Webb both fought injury last year, and Smith was having a terrific season until he sprained his foot and missed the final eight games of the season. Webb, meanwhile, has been fighting back and knee issues for two seasons. Webb is more of a nickel back and he may play outside rather than start at CB.
If that’s the case, there are four guys vying for his position at CB within nickel and dime defensive schemes. Kendrick Lewis starts at SS and the Ravens were particularly weak at the position a year ago. Lewis is a good tackler and will cut off a lot of bigger plays. Jeromy Miles and Will Hall will battle one another for the start at FS. Miles is well-suited safety though he’s never played the position. It could actually work out very well, and if it doesn’t the Ravens can go with Hall.
The team has options in its secondary, it’s just that most of them are mediocre or unproven.
The Ravens’ kicking is top notch with Justin Tucker. He converted on 29 of 34 FG and all 42 extra points. He’s the most accurate kicker in NFL history at 89.8 percent (min. 100 att.) and punter Sam Koch lead the league in net punting average (43.3 yards), while posting the fourth highest mark there in league history.
Kicking and punting are both good on a legendary level.
The Ravens may use second-year WR Michael Campanaro to return kicks and punts. He lacks breakaway speed but should be a decent return man. Perriman may also see a fair amount of returns, though the Ravens will miss both its holder and long snapper from last season.
The Ravens are likely due for a slight regression this year, and having a new OC is a part of why; there will be adjustment. Moreover, the team faces five of its first seven opponents on the road which will make it tough to get off to a good start.
Joe Flacco is a very good QB though, so this offense will put points on the board if only because of him and a competent group of receivers. While the Ravens may be a longer shot to win the Super Bowl, an AFC North crown is well within reach and likely.
The team won 10 games last year, and to see it regress to 8 or 9 would not be too surprising. Eight is probably the basement for Baltimore, but if it suffers injuries at the spots it lacks depth at, the results could be worse still. The Ravens are relying on some older players producing well past their primes while also being healthy enough to play the bulk of the minutes. That’s not a sustainable model.
Prediction: 9 wins