A Prologue to the Playoffs – Ravens Redemption

July 15, 2012 | Hope Birchfield

Coming off a heartbreaking loss in last season’s AFC Championship Game in Foxborough,Mass., there was a somber reality check. The Ravens truly believed that last season was their year for Super Bowl glory. The game epitomized missed opportunities with Lee Evans holding the golden ticket to Indianapolis in his hands and dropping it. The normally reliable Billy Cundiff went wide left on a 32-yard chip shot that would have tied the game with 11 seconds left in regulation. Baltimore stood silent and nodded in unison as Terrell Suggs mouthed, “Oh my God.”

Oh my God was right. The Ravens were out and life had no meaning (Until the SB when fans felt morally obligated to root against Tom Brady and the Patriots). Time has slowly healed the wounds though as we look forward to see what the 2012-2013 season holds. With an aging squad and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed likely retiring at the end of the season, this is “Custer’s Last Stand.”

With this intensity and this “last shot” mentality, the Ravens will finish the season 12-4.

Week 1 – Bengals at Ravens

The Ravens open their season against the Bengals on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” and will secure their first win of the season. Bengals QB Andy Dalton will challenge the Ravens’ secondary as he attempts to connect with A.J .Green down the field. Though he is a Pro Bowl QB, he is a young and inexperienced quarterback that the Ravens will be able to keep in check. Joe Flacco will step up his passing game and Ray Rice will be utilized to keep the Bengals guessing.

Week 2 – Ravens at Eagles

Last year, the Eagles started off 4-8 before winning their last four to finish 8-8. Near the end of the season, the Eagles started gaining momentum and making the big plays. Andy Reid and Michael Vick both know their days are numbered if the Eagles do not perform. In their first regular season game at the Linc, the Eagles are going to come out of the gate strong and overpower the Ravens. In this game, the absence of Suggs is going to be on full display with Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw being no match for the experience of Vick. The Ravens will lose this one in a frustrating exhibition before heading home to take on the Patriots.

Week 3 – Patriots at Ravens

A lot of the reason I think the Ravens will lose against the Eagles is because they are fixated on vindication and righting the wrong that occurred in Foxborough. This game is at M&T Bank Stadium in front of a home crowd. The Ravens are going to be desperate to prove that they deserved to go to the Super Bowl last year.  During the AFC Championship Game, Flacco did outperform Brady. They both completed 22 out of 36 passes with Flacco putting up 306 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT. In contrast, Brady threw for 239 yards with no TDs and 2 INTs. Home field advantage is going to conspire in the Ravens’ favor and they will squeak out the win to improve to 2-1 on the season.

Week 4 – Browns at Ravens

I feel sorry for the Browns at this point in the season. Given the third hardest schedule in the NFL, the Ravens have an eight-game winning streak against the Browns. As long as the Ravens’ defense can shut down Trent Richardson, the Ravens should run away with this win before going on the road.

Week 5 – Ravens at Chiefs

The Chiefs are building their team like Rome. Though Peyton Hillis did not have a good year in the 2011-2012 season, he made it no secret he did not want to play with the Browns. (As a side note – I also blame the “Madden curse” for his lackluster numbers last year). This year, however, Hillis will join Jamaal Charles to create quite the powerhouse running back duo. The Ravens need to limit the rushing game and force Matt Casssel to throw the ball. The Ravens’ secondary is fully capable of protecting the backfield against the Chiefs. The Ravens will take this one from the Chiefs and improve to 4-1.

Week 6 – Cowboys at Ravens

The Cowboys have improved their secondary over the off-season so the Ravens need to take this into consideration when calling plays. Flacco will need to be on point with his throws or the Cowboys will capitalize with turnovers. The Ravens’ offensive line needs to stand tall and prevent DeMarcus Ware from getting to Flacco. Defensively, the Ravens must prevent the big plays to Dez Bryant downfield and stifle the running game of DeMarco Murray. In a closer game than anticipated, the Ravens will slightly outperform the Cowboys and get the win.

Week 7 – Ravens at Texans

This game is going to be difficult because the Texans are angry. You wouldn’t like them when they’re angry. After two losses last year at home (including one in the playoffs), the Texans are thirsty for a win. Matt Schaub and Arian Foster will give the defense a run for its money. This game really relies on the abilities of Kruger and Upshaw. If they can tame Foster and limit him in yardage, the Ravens’ offense can surely top the Texans. If Upshaw and Kruger play as I expect them to, the Ravens will squeeze out a win to head into the bye week with a 6-1 record.

Week 9 – Ravens at Browns

This one is going to hurt but I think the Ravens are going to take their first upset loss of the year against the Browns. During Week 4, the Ravens will have bested the Browns by a sizable margin. This almost arrogance will be the reason for the infuriating loss. Last season, fans watched in horror as the Ravens fell to sub-par teams like the Seahawks and the Jaguars. This will be the only loss to a losing squad in the season and a reminder that the Ravens are not omnipotent beings.

Week 10 – Raiders at Ravens

Coming off an embarrassing loss to the Browns, the Ravens are absolutely going to dominate Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders. Last season, Palmer struggled inOaklandthrowing 16 picks and only 13 TDs. His numbers will improve this year, but not against the Ravens. I expect at least 2 INTs as the Ravens’ defense manhandles the offensive line. The Ravens are going to win this one in a big way.

Week 11 – Ravens at Steelers

One of the best rivalries in sports, the Ravens will fall short at Heinz Field. In these match ups, it is not usually about how the teams stack up to each other, (they are comparable), but rather home team advantage. Out of their comfort zone with tens of thousands of Steelers fans, the Steelers will take it. After losing at Heinz Field last season, I think it’s safe to assume that it is going to be a hard fought game and some injuries will likely occur.

Week 12 – Ravens at Chargers

After dropping to the Steelers in Week 11, the Ravens must travel cross the country to take on the Chargers. Fatigued from travel and bruised from playing the Steelers the week prior, the Ravens are going to struggle stopping Philip Rivers. Last season, the Chargers were sixth in the league in points, passing yards and yards and they will capitalize on the Ravens’ fatigue. The Ravens will lose this one and drop to 7-4 on the season. Fans will start sounding the alarms as the Ravens will have dropped three of their last four games, but this is premature.

Week 13 – Steelers at Ravens

For the same reason why the Steelers will win in Week 11, the Ravens will win this week. Not wanting to be swept by the Steelers, the Ravens will rise to occasion in front of their home crowd and take the win from Ben Roethlisberger and his golden goons.

Week 14 – Ravens at Redskins

The Battle of the Beltway will allow Ravens fans their first glimpse at RGIII. Though he has the makings of a potentially elite quarterback, he cannot be expected to transform a team in one season. RGIII will struggle against the seasoned Baltimore defense and throw costly picks. Roy Helu, in his second year, will be prominent in this game as passing plays will prove to be too costly. The Ravens will come out victorious and grant the 695 corridor the win over the dreaded 495 corridor.

Week 15 – Broncos at Ravens

Peyton Manning has historically dominated the Baltimore Ravens but that was a lifetime ago. With a new equestrian team, Manning will excel and put up impressive numbers throughout the season. With new receivers however, Manning will not have the upper hand as he did in Indianapolis and the Ravens should be able to run and pass fairly effectively against the Broncos’ defense. The Ravens will win this, almost have a winning streak again (three is a streak!) and improve to 10-4. Fans can start breathing easier as playoff hopes are revived and the order of the universe is restored.

Week 16 – Giants at Ravens

Yes, the Giants won the Super Bowl last year. The same Giants that failed to beat the Redskins twice in the regular season. Clearly there are some consistency issues with the Giants and the Ravens should be able to capitalize on this. At this point, the offense will be completely melded granting Flacco many targets downfield. The Ravens are going to play this game like a playoff game because they know how close they were to playing them last February. This is the alternate ending, only 10 months too late.

Week 17 – Ravens at Bengals
This game is going to hold the same significance as the Week 17 versus the Bengals last season. Since I expect the Patriots to clinch the No. 1 seed again this year, the Ravens and Steelers will be a dead heat to see who clinches the No. 2 and who clinches the No. 5. With home field advantage again on the line, the Ravens will give Dalton a ticket home and the playoffs will once again go through Baltimore.

Things to look for:

Flacco will throw more deep passes this year. Last season, the rookie class did not have the benefit of training camp. Near the middle of the season, Torrey Smith and Flacco started connecting for the big plays. Anquan Boldin, LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss will also be favorites and help give Flacco a career season.

Upshaw is ready step up to fill the shoes of Suggs. Playing at the University of Alabama is about as close as you can get to the NFL without actually being in the NFL. He will bring an intensity and skill that will make the loss of Suggs less devastating.

Rice will drop in production because opponents know he is a “playmaker.” Rice ran for 1,364 yards last year and other teams will be expecting running plays. Rather than be the team star this year, Rice will contribute to the team and complement good passing plays well.