It is very easy to get caught up in the minutia of the Ravens off-season. None of that really matters until 7 PM on September 10th against the Cincinnati Bengals. I guess I do not find any injuries, contract issues, players who talk, too worrying because the Ravens have one of the top 3 organizations in the NFL. That being said; when I looking at the season ahead, I start with 10 wins automatically and work my way from there.
It is going to be difficult to match the 12-4 record last year because the schedule, on paper, is more difficult. We trade the NFC West for the East, and since we finished in first, welcome New England and Houston. Not to mention a visit for a Raven nemesis, Peyton Manning and his new team, the Denver Broncos on December 16th. (Frankly, I don’t think he will make the trip to Baltimore because of injury) A trip to Kansas City, other than the Barbeque, and Negro League Hall of Fame is never any fun, and flying to San Diego the week after playing in Pittsburgh is a recipe for disaster.
For all the harassment Joe Flacco takes, he is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. With the league rules being what they are, the offense should be fine. The Ray Rice issue will be resolved, but either way, he isn’t going to sit out the entire year and cost himself 7.7 Million. Keep an eye on Bernard Pierce. He is a bruising running back with good deceptive 4.49 speed; ask Maryland. Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will play a major role in the red zone again this year, and Torrey Smith has a full year underneath his belt. It is not like this offense was horrible last year; they scored 378 points, fourth best in the conference.
The Terrell Suggs injury, although damaging, isn’t the end of the world. If anything, this organization has drafted and signed free agent s well. As I responded at Hooters during the semi finals of the Baltimore Sports Media Superstar contest, a combination of Courtney Upshaw, Paul Kruger, and Sergio Kindle need to seal that edge of the line and get pressure on the quarterback. If they cannot do that to a reasonable level, this could be a long year. This has become a quarterback driven league and he only way to combat it is by moving him off his spot. Sacks are great, quarterback pressures is the real stat. Our defensive backfield is as good is at has been since the Super Bowl era of Chris McAlister, Duane Starks, Rod Woodson, and Kim Herring. The only other concern I have is the pass coverage of our linebackers. Ray Lewis is great, but his pass coverage is below par at this point. He needs come off the field on passing situations, but that is assuming we have someone better, and I do not think that is the case. All this being said, the success of this defense will rest on the front line and how quickly they can get into the backfield. Pernell McPhee, Halota Ngata, and the aforementioned players on the other side of the line need to create havoc, plain and simple!
The one thing about Baltimore that cannot be overstated is how great our home field advantage M&T Bank Stadium has been over the years. In fact, since Joe Flacco has been our signal caller, the Ravens are 27-5 in regular season home games. In that time period only New England has a better home record in the AFC.
Looking at the rest of the division, Pittsburgh is always formidable, but with Todd Haley taking over the offense, and wanting to run more, they could take a step back until a comfort level is reached. Cleveland is still in a rebuilding mode. They must take a page out of the Baltimore Orioles playbook. Everyone is all over Cincinnati and with good reason. I really like Andy Dalton, and A. J. Green, but are they still owned by Mike Brown? Enough said!
All in all and with limited injuries, I look at the Ravens going 11-5, winning the AFC North and getting another home game in the playoffs. I think a bye is going to be more difficult to accomplish, as New England, and Houston have easier divisions to navigate. With the bad taste in my mouth (it was not the chicken wing I was eating) from last year, I am chomping at the bit for this season to get going. Come on September 10th!!!