In two weeks the familiar sounds of whistles blown, shoulder pads crashing and the howls and moans from football players impressed or disappointed by another athletes performance will make their return to The Castle at Owings Mills. Training camp is almost here. Six months have passed since that night in Foxboro, six months of unfinished business.
While the players, coaches and front office prepare for the upcoming season, those that talk football will take up valuable space and air time with what they believe the destiny for this year’s team will be. So without further ado I give you my prediction for the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.
A year after finishing 12-4 in the regular season and undefeated in the AFC North the Ravens have their work cut out for them this season. While the 2012 season schedule only includes five postseason teams from last year, in the parody landscape of NFL teams, no matchup is a given (remember Jacksonville and Seattle). In the first month the Ravens will face an improved and more experienced Bengals team, the Eagles who finished last season on a four game winning streak just missing the postseason, a showdown with Tom Brady and the Patriots at M & T Bank and finishing the month against Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals, Patriots and Browns are all primetime games with the Monday night opener against Cincinnati.
Once October begins the Ravens will play the next six of eight games on the road beginning with a trip to Arrowhead Stadium. For those that would rather have Tono Romo over Flacco you’ll get your chance to argue when the Cowboys come to Charm City. Then road trips to Houston and Cleveland before stopping back home to Baltimore to face the Raiders. Back on the road to the despised city of Pittsburgh for the first rivalry matchup of the year on Sunday Night Football then fly to San Diego and return home to play the Steelers to end the month of November.
The month of December will matchup the Ravens for the first time against RGIII and the team from D.C. Then the Ravens nemesis Peyton Manning comes to Baltimore with his new Broncos team while his brother Eli comes to town the following week when the defending Super Bowl champion Giants visit and the season ends in Cincinnati.
My prediction for this year 11-5
The Ravens may have escaped without a loss in their division last season for the first time in franchise history this year they won’t be as lucky. Cincinnati appears ready to join Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the division conversation. Second year quarterback Andy Dalton will try to avoid the sophomore slump and while their additions of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and improvements in their secondary will help the Bengals cause. The loss of wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell may be a detriment to Dalton and the offense. Those two receivers accounted for over 1,000 yards of offense and seven touchdowns in Dalton’s rookie season. If the Bengals are to return to the playoffs the final game in Cincinnati could end up in the wrong column for the Ravens.
The other potential divsion loss will be to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. In the Harbaugh era the point difference in this game has been three. With the two rivals splitting the four regular season matchups in the steel city I’m expecting this year for a split in the two games with the home team winning one each. While the Steelers defense has gotten long in the tooth the offense is what will again carry Pittsburgh. Improvements to their offensive line and a tandem passing attack with Wallace and Sanders will again provide Ravens fans suspense filled, nail biting moments when these two bitter rivals clash.
The other losses I have on their schedule are the Chargers, Broncos and Giants. All three teams have quarterbacks that have and are capable of putting up big numbers on the Ravens defense forcing the offense to answer quickly and often. While this year may be the first for Peyton and the Broncos, until the Ravens can prove they can beat him consistently the edge has to go to old number 18.
The month of December doesn’t appear to hold many gifts for the Ravens so they will have to shop for wins early in the season. If Joe Flacco and the offense can continue to grow and the offensive line provide him the protection he requires I believe the Ravens will once again take the AFC North crown and return to the playoffs.
WNST Ravens beat reporter Luke Jones joins me in a pre training camp podcast. Take a listen here.
Is Flacco a top 10 quarteback? Watch my debate during the WNSTBSMS semi finals here.
Follow Adam McCallister on Twitter: @McCallister_A