If the Ravens are going to make it further than they did last season, they will really need to work hard and stay healthy. The Ravens have an incredibly tough schedule, we actually play every AFC playoff team from last season and the defending super bowl champs as well. As if that wasn’t enough, you can throw the games against Philadelphia, Dallas, and at San Diego in the mix and you have one brutal schedule. Here are my five keys to the Ravens making the playoffs.
Number Five: STAY HEALTHY-With Terrell Suggs, the reigning AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, already out for the first few months of the season, the Ravens can ill-afford to see another starter fall to injury. The most vulnerable time can be training camp so it is very important that the team stays conditioned. Suggs alone last year had 14 sacks, 7 Forced Fumbles, and 2 interceptions to go along with his 70 tackles. With him out, rookie Courtney Upshaw, who was the defensive MVP in Alabama’s National Championship win over LSU, will need to step up. He led the champs with 9.5 sacks in 13 games.
Number Four: OFFENSIVE LINE-The Offensive line will need to keep it together this year as they did last year. The biggest difference this year is the huge loss of Ben Grubbs to New Orleans. Last season the Ravens O-line allowed the 12th fewest sacks at 33, seven fewer then the previous season. If Joe Flacco has the time he needs there isn’t anyone who can deny he is a great quarterback. Bobbie Wilson, the 14 year veteran, will be called upon to keep Joe on his feet. Matt Birk, who is more then likely playing in his last season, will be playing his fourth season with Flacco, so there is no need to worry about the Center position.
Number Three: WIN AT HOME-Since Flacco has been the quarterback of the Ravens, they have only lost 3 home games. This year will be one of the toughest home schedules the Ravens have ever had. In five of the eight home games, the Ravens will welcome 2011 playoff teams: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New England, New York Giants, and Denver. The remaining three home games are; Dallas, who will bring one of the best defenses in the league into M&T Bank Stadium, Oakland, who has young talent that just missed the playoffs last season, and Cleveland, who always can beat a big opponent. If the Ravens are going to make the playoffs in the AFC, 12-4 is the record to shoot for. Bottom line, going to have to take care of business at home or they won’t be playing into January.
Number Two: BEAT THE BAD TEAMS-Last season all four of the Ravens losses came to teams that didn’t make the playoffs. Granted all four were on the road, this season the Ravens CANNOT play down to their opponent. Winning as many games to get home field advantage is the most crucial step for the Ravens to make it to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. They have proven that it is damn near impossible for a visiting team to come into Charm City and leave victorious, but still they have to beat the bad teams on the road.
Number One: SIGN RAY RICE AND GET ED REED BACK-Make this man happy please. I already wrote a full blog for WNST on this but I will say it again. This is a top three running back in the NFL and a genuinely good person to have in your organization. He is as big of a passing threat as he is a rushing threat and is the most important player on the offense besides Joe Flacco. Having a happy Ray Rice is better then having one who feels his organization doesn’t have his back! As for Ed Reed, the Ravens will play against six of Ron Jaworski’s top 10 quarterbacks who all love to try to burn the defense deep. Ed Reed may have lost half of a step over the years but he still puts fear in any quarterbacks judgement to test him deep. And same goes for Reed as it does Rice, he is a great person to have around the organization to keep everyone smiling and happy. GIVE HIM A STEAK DINNER AND GET HIM BACK!
If all goes right, I predict the Ravens finish 13-3 and another first round bye. Hopefully this year as the number one seed.