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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

Posted on 06 September 2014 by Luke Jones

As everyone else goes through the endeavor of making division-by-division forecasts that will ultimately mean very little, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their effort to bounce back from the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

1. Joe Flacco will be the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player.

The quarterback won’t suddenly transform into a 5,000-yard passer with 35 touchdowns, but the arrival of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will bring the most efficient Flacco we’ve seen since the 2010 season when he completed nearly 63 percent of his passes and posted a 93.6 passer rating. A steadier running game will alleviate pressure on the seventh-year signal-caller to feel the need to do it all like he encountered last year, which will only make him more effective with better weapons to target. Flacco will throw 25 touchdown passes for the second time in his career.

2. Haloti Ngata will be playing his final season in Baltimore.

The Ravens and Ngata talked about a new contract this offseason in the same way the organization extended Terrell Suggs’ deal, but talks didn’t go anywhere with the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle carrying a $16 million salary cap figure this year and next. The difference next year will be the ability to save $8.5 million in cap space by releasing him, which will be easier to execute with the emergence of second-round rookie Timmy Jernigan and nose tackle Brandon Williams this season. Though Ngata is still a good defensive tackle, anyone who’s closely watched him play over the last few years has seen a decline in impact and durability, making it likely this is his final season with the Ravens unless he alters his financial expectations significantly.

3. Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Williams will be players to take a step forward.

The second-year fullback was a non-factor offensively as a rookie, but it’s clear Kubiak envisions a role for Juszczyk as a receiver out of the backfield, making it possible he catches 30 passes in the way H-back James Casey did in Kubiak’s Houston offense a few years ago. Meanwhile, Williams will need to emerge to soften the blow from the loss of defensive tackle Arthur Jones in free agency, and the 2013 third-round pick was impressive against the run in the preseason. The Ravens need more young players to emerge to offset the reality of several core players approaching the end of their careers, and Juszczyk and Williams will make a bigger impact in 2014 after very quiet rookie campaigns.

4. Marlon Brown and Elvis Dumervil will be players to take a step back.

Even though the second-year receiver had an inconsistent summer, his inclusion in this prediction has more to do with the sheer number of weapons added to the equation with a fully-healthy Dennis Pitta back and the free-agent additions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Brown won’t catch 49 passes again, but he will still be a target in the red zone, which will give him a chance to make his limited opportunities count. Dumervil collected 9 1/2 sacks in his first season with the Ravens, but had only one in his final seven games. He added weight in the offseason, which sounds like a questionable strategy for a 30-year-old rush specialist dependent on speed to get around the edge.

5. Jimmy Smith will be the player who deserves to make the Pro Bowl but won’t.

Before a scary fall that caused bruising and bleeding from his lungs in the second preseason game, Smith was having the best summer of any Baltimore defensive player and appears primed for a breakout campaign after taking significant strides in his first season as a starter. The rest of the secondary is a major concern right now, but Smith could be chosen by defensive coordinator Dean Pees to shadow Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green and the other elite receivers the Ravens encounter in 2014. It may take another year for Smith to finally receive league-wide recognition after an injury-riddled start to his career, but he will play at a Pro Bowl level for an otherwise shaky secondary this season.

6. Terrence Brooks will be starting at free safety before Halloween.

If Smith and Lardarius Webb are healthy, the Ravens should be alright at cornerback even with uncertainty at the No. 3 spot, but there is no such comfort at safety where 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and veteran newcomer Darian Stewart will start. The Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage allows him to make a bigger impact, but his summer was quiet as he still struggled to cover and tackle consistently. Stewart didn’t show any signs of being an impact defender playing deep center field and the third-round rookie Brooks took major strides at the end of the summer, making it only a matter of time before the Florida State product supplants him in the starting defense.

7. Steve Smith will be the top veteran newcomer.

It’s easy to be skeptical of the impact Smith will bring at age 35 by pointing to his yards per catch average steadily decreasing over the last three seasons, but the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was too impressive this summer to think he won’t be a substantial upgrade to the offense. His swagger and attitude will pump life into an offense that lacked any a year ago, and he has the ability to help move the chains and provide production similar to what Anquan Boldin did in his three years with the Ravens when he averaged 882 receiving yards per season. He won’t be able to bring the same explosiveness all 16 weeks that we saw this summer, but he will still be a significant reason why the offense improves from its 29th overall ranking a year ago.

8. Owen Daniels will be the disappointing veteran newcomer.

The 31-year-old tight end revealed a few days ago that he was dealing with a hamstring injury to clarify Harbaugh’s vague “leg soreness” diagnosis that forced him out of practice for two weeks, but Daniels wasn’t impressive when he was practicing in training camp, struggling to gain separation and make plays to complement Pitta at the tight end position. The Ravens have given Daniels the benefit of the doubt because he is so familiar with Kubiak’s system, but it’s difficult not to be reminded of how little Dallas Clark had remaining in the tank last season while watching Daniels practice this summer. Rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore will need to be ready to step up if Daniels can’t provide what the Ravens need in 2014.

9. C.J. Mosley will be the top Ravens rookie.

This prediction isn’t exactly going out on a limb as he’s the only first-year player currently starting on either side of the football for the Ravens. The Alabama product could occasionally struggle to hold up against physical blockers in defending the run, but he has shown impressive ability in pass coverage, which will make him a three-down linebacker in Week 1. The selection of Mosley raised eyebrows considering the Ravens already had depth at inside linebacker and needs at a number of other positions, but he’s been as good as advertised and has the potential to be a dynamic defensive player in the years to come.

10. The Ravens will make the playoffs with a 9-7 record as a wild card, but they will exit in the first round.

The Ravens will move into the top half of the offensive rankings in 2014, but the defense will slide from last season’s 12th overall spot with an aging front seven and a shaky secondary. This adds up to only modest improvement from 2013 when Baltimore finished 8-8 and fell short of the postseason. Cincinnati will prevail in the AFC North with a 10-6 record, but the overall mediocrity of the AFC will leave the door open for the Ravens to finish 3-1 in the month of December and grab one of the two wild-card spots before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs to Indianapolis.

Bonus Super Bowl XLIX prediction no one asked for: New Orleans will beat Denver in a 30-24 final.

A defense that continues to improve under coordinator Rob Ryan will offset last year’s road struggles and put Drew Brees and the Saints in position to win their second Super Bowl title in the last six years while Peyton Manning and the Broncos fall short on the NFL’s biggest stage for the second straight year.

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Ravens list Webb as questionable for Sunday’s season opener

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Ravens list Webb as questionable for Sunday’s season opener

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens listed starting cornerback Lardarius Webb as questionable on their final injury report ahead of Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

The sixth-year defensive back practiced fully all week after missing five weeks of summer practice due to back spasms first sustained on July 25. Webb is expected by most to play against the Bengals’ explosive passing attack, but it remains to be seen how effective or limited he might be after missing all of training camp.

For players such as Webb and veteran tight end Owen Daniels who missed significant practice time last month, this week was an encouraging development as all 53 players participated fully. Running back Bernard Pierce was the only other player listed and is probable after being cleared from the concussion sustained in the third preseason game against Washington.

“This week is valuable for all the players. They all have done a great job,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t care where you’re at as a player, you need to prepare. And [Webb and Daniels] prepared like everybody else. Everybody is at their own spot in terms of what they need to do to get ready to play.”

Meanwhile, the Bengals ruled out starting wide receiver Marvin Jones (foot) at the start of the week and listed rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hip) as questionable for Sunday. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (shoulder) were listed as probable.

Here’s the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: CB Lardarius Webb (back)
PROBABLE: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Rex Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DOUBTFUL: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
PROBABLE: LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), G/C Mike Pollak (knee), T Andre Smith (concussion)

 

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Ravens out to prove they’re not spinning their wheels in 2014

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Ravens out to prove they’re not spinning their wheels in 2014

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Figuring out what to make of the Ravens isn’t easy as they open the 2014 season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon.

Coming off their first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens have expressed confidence that 2013 was an aberration as significant roster turnover and injuries not only derailed their chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions but led to an 8-8 season that left them sitting at home in January.

The optimists will point to the Ravens playing in a league-high nine games decided by three or fewer points and suggest they easily could have made the playoffs had they done a smidgen better than their 5-4 mark in those contests. But the critics will say that record could have been a game or two worse while reminding that the Ravens allowed 32 more points than they produced a year ago and were outscored by 51 in their final two games in which they had the opportunity to lock up a playoff berth.

After six weeks of summer practice and a 4-0 record in the preseason, it’s easy to say this year will be different until you tee it off for real as the Ravens will against the defending AFC North champions at M&T Bank Stadium. In reality, there is plenty of unknown on each side of the football.

“It’s kind of like the first hit in a game or of training camp when you come back,” Harbaugh said. “There’s anxiety and excitement, but there’s anxiety until you get that first hit, and as soon as you get the first hit, the game is on and you’re playing. It’s a little bit like that with the opener.”

Yes, even with the opportunity to play in front of their home crowd to begin their 19th season in Baltimore, the Ravens face a major challenge in taking on the Bengals, who are viewed by many as the most talented team in the division despite an underwhelming offseason and the departure of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Playing three straight division games to start the year gives the Ravens the opportunity to take early control of the AFC North, but it could also leave them with an immediate uphill climb if they’re slow to answer the regular-season bell.

Needless to say, the objective of the offseason was fixing the league’s 29th-ranked offense that averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry and just 20.0 points per game. The hiring of coordinator Gary Kubiak and the acquisitions of five-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, veteran center Jeremy Zuttah, and tight end Owen Daniels don’t exactly make it a bold statement to suggest the offense will be better.

How much improvement we see will begin and end with an offensive line that was an utter disaster a year ago. Injured and undersized on the interior, the Ravens were manhandled at the point of attack and struggled to protect quarterback Joe Flacco. The revamped group paved the way for a successful running game in limited opportunities in the preseason but still showed too many leaks in pass protection, meaning the jury’s still out on offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s group. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele and left tackle Eugene Monroe are expected to be anchors, but how well Zuttah and second-year right tackle Rick Wagner hold up against talented fronts like Cincinnati’s will be a more telling test.

Smith and Daniels give Flacco more weapons in the passing game, but age is a legitimate variable in determining how much of an impact they’ll make. The 35-year-old Smith quelled some concerns with an outstanding summer, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to bring that same impact over the course of 16 weeks. Meanwhile, Daniels didn’t exactly look like a difference-maker this summer before a hamstring injury sidelined him for two weeks, making you question whether Dennis Pitta will have much help behind him at the tight end position.

Kubiak’s arrival signals a clear return to the Ravens’ long-held commitment to run the football, but his variation of the West Coast offense should empower Flacco to make quicker decisions to neutralize potential issues with pass protection. Even if the offensive line is able to open running lanes for Bernard Pierce and the currently-suspended Ray Rice, the Ravens will ultimately go as far as their franchise quarterback will take them in what’s intended to be a more balanced offense.

“I don’t know how to describe it, but I think the biggest thing for us is to be good at doing the little things,” Flacco said. “The base things in this offense and coming up with little things to throw defenses off here and there. But I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t know if versatile is the word, or what not, but I can tell you that I feel very comfortable in it. I think all of our guys feel very comfortable running it.”

Will there be early-season growing pains with a new system predicated on quicker passes and good timing? Historically, those aren’t the types of routes with which Flacco has been particularly effective as he’s often been criticized for not getting rid of the football quickly enough. The Ravens are confident that Smith can at least provide another third-down option to go along with the dependable Pitta.

Yes, the offense will be improved, but how much better will it be in relation to last year’s incredibly low standard? Will they simply manage to crack the top 20, or will the Ravens find themselves in the top third of the league?

“It’s time to go find out. I wouldn’t say we’ve held anything back,” said Kubiak of his offense’s preparation for the regular season. “They’ve handled things really well, so we continue to progress forward as far as the load in what we give them. Obviously, you’re trying to put them all in position to do what they do best, but we’re starting against a great group — a team that was a Top 5 defensive team last year. We have a big, big challenge this weekend, but that’s part of this league.”

Even if you’re buying what Kubiak and the offense are selling, the bigger concern might exist on the opposite side of the ball even though the Ravens ranked 12th in total defense last season. The overall numbers were respectable, but the pass rush declined in the second half of the season and two significant pieces departed in the offseason with defensive tackle Arthur Jones and No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham finding new homes in free agency.

The front seven hopes the infusion of second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams and 2014 first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley will pay dividends — both were impressive during the preseason — but the other five starting members of that group (Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty, Daryl Smith, and Elvis Dumervil) are all 30 or older. That’s not to say those core members of the defense won’t make significant contributions in 2014, but it’s easy to see some correlation with age and the defense’s fourth-quarter struggles and disappointing finish a year ago.

Of particular importance will be the pass-rushing duo of Suggs and Dumervil, who combined for 19 1/2 sacks in 2013 but collected only two in the final seven games. With a secondary that was hampered by injuries during training camp and is just now back on the practice field, the Ravens need to put heat on quarterback Andy Dalton to keep wide receiver A.J. Green and the Bengals’ other pass-catching threats from shaking free in the event of rust or miscommunication on the back end of the defense.

“The sense of urgency, it never changes if you’re a true front seven,” Suggs said. “They’re the defending division champions, and [Dalton] has shown that he can lead his team. If we already didn’t have a sense of urgency, then we’re hustling backwards, we’re not prepared to play. It didn’t heighten just because we had some guys out [during] camp.”

Yes, the Ravens finally appear healthy in the secondary as cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson are now practicing at full strength, but the extended absence of Webb remains a concern as defensive coordinator Dean Pees was unable to determine which nickel alignment would work best for his defense this summer. Webb is better suited to defend the slot in the nickel package, but Jackson is also more of an inside corner and the other outside options — Chykie Brown and the newly-signed Derek Cox — don’t inspire confidence. In this pass-happy era of the NFL, it’s not a comforting feeling to be without a known commodity at the No. 3 cornerback spot.

Though injuries didn’t necessarily plague the safety position, it’s unclear whether the tandem of 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and newcomer Darian Stewart are even as effective as Elam and former strong safety James Ihedigbo were a year ago, let alone whether they’ll be more dynamic. Neither played particularly well in the preseason as the Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage will allow him to utilize the skill set that made him a standout at the University of Florida. It only appears to be a matter of time before third-round pick Terrence Brooks supplants Stewart at free safety, but it’s an awful lot to ask a rookie to handle that position with Baltimore’s sophisticated coverages.

Beyond the healthy tandem of Smith and Webb, the secondary appears vulnerable and could be in serious trouble if the front seven can’t make quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.

In sizing up the Ravens entering the 2014 season, it’s fair to wonder whether they will find themselves spinning their wheels with an improved offense but a defense in apparent danger of taking a step or two in the wrong direction.

Perhaps the biggest cause for optimism is the current state of the AFC North with the Bengals not taking the necessary offseason steps to become a true Super Bowl contender, the Steelers appearing to be in a state between good and bad, and the Browns still being, well, the Browns. Barring key injuries, there’s no reason to believe the Ravens won’t be in contention for the division title along with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, but there are too many unknowns to give them a distinct edge beyond the natural optimism existing in most cities around the NFL entering Week 1.

History suggests you don’t count out the Harbaugh-led Ravens, but it will be fascinating to see how the coach and his team respond after their first failure as it relates to making the postseason. For now, the Ravens are saying all the right things about their outlook.

“I like our team a lot. I would go so far to say I love our team,” Harbaugh said. “I love the way they work. I love the way they treat one another. I love the way they bleed with one another. I believe in this football team. There’s no question in my mind that this team is destined for some very special things. But now you have to do it.”

Sunday will be the Ravens’ initial chance to begin proving it to those who aren’t convinced.

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No changes to Ravens’ injury report on Thursday

Posted on 04 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While questions remain over how prepared the Ravens secondary will be in the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, uncertainty about its healthy has dissipated as all 53 players on the active roster practiced fully for the second straight day.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) and running back Bernard Pierce (concussion) were the only Ravens players listed on Thursday’s injury report, as was the case the previous day. Baltimore is hoping Webb’s experiencing entering his sixth NFL season will offset the five weeks of missed practice time due to back spasms first suffered on July 25.

Meanwhile, the Bengals are dealing with many more injury concerns after wide receiver Marvin Jones and running back Rex Burkhead were already ruled out for Sunday’s game earlier this week. The left side of the Cincinnati offensive line was sidelined Thursday, but tackle Andrew Whitworth and left guard Clint Boling were simply given a veteran day off, according to the Bengals’ report.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was limited in Thursday’s practice due to the heat after recently getting over a hamstring issue. Rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard has been limited two straight days because of a hip injury.

Prior to Thursday’s practice, the Ravens announced they re-signed veteran linebacker Josh Bynes to their practice squad and released rookie defensive tackle A.J. Pataiali’i. Bynes cleared waivers on Wednesday and was eligible for the practice squad because of changes made by the NFL for the 2014 season.

Under the new 10-man practice squad rules, each team may sign a maximum of two players with no more than two accrued seasons. Previously, if a player had an accrued NFL season by being on the 53-roster for more than six games, he was ineligible for the practice squad unless he was on the active game-day roster for fewer than nine contests. Bynes has only accrued two full NFL seasons, making him eligible despite the fact that he appeared in 25 games for the Ravens over the last two seasons.

Here is Thursday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion), CB Lardarius Webb (back)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Max Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion), G Clint Boling (non-injury related – veteran day), T Andrew Whitworth (non-injury related – veteran day)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (heat-related), CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G/C Mike Pollak (knee), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), OT Andre Smith (concussion)

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NFL Season Preview and Predictions

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NFL Season Preview and Predictions

Posted on 03 September 2014 by Nick Dorsey

 

AFC North:

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Cincinnati Bengals
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Cleveland Browns

The Bengals took home first place in the North at the end of the last season, but that is sure to change. Speaking of change, the Bengals have seen some throughout their organization.

Losing two coordinators and other pieces from the roster last season is why they will not repeat as division king. Although Hue Jackson will do a solid job replacing Jay Gruden, it is extremely difficult to replicate what former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was able to do.

While Pittsburgh has made some improvements during the off-season, they will still come up short when it is all said and done. Roethlisberger needs a couple of young playmakers to step up and it might be too tall of a task.

Markus Wheaton and rookie Martavis Bryant have to provide Ben with help consistently, but it might be too soon for them to be able to get that done. Ben is left with a true number one wide out in Brown and an aged tight end in Heath Miller.

Ben will have playmakers out of the backfield, especially Dri Archer. The former Kent State product will make a name for himself as the season goes along. The Steelers defense has improved from last season, especially the front seven. Their secondary is what will hold them back from being a dominant unit.

Manziel had the buzz to give the city of Cleveland hope, but the hype off the field will not match what he puts out on the field when the opportunity is given. His lack of weapons on the outside does not help him, but he will also struggle mightily during his rookie campaign. Pettine has a good defense that he will have to build on next off-season.

With the key additions of Gary Kubiak and Steve Smith to the Ravens offense, Baltimore will ascend back to the top of the North. Joe Flacco has a plethora of weapons that surround him, arguably the most he has ever had in his short career. Getting his buddy Dennis Pitta back for the season will get him going early.

While the secondary is a concern with depth at cornerback and starting safety play, the defense should be good enough to crack the top ten. Mosley will have a good season playing alongside Daryl Smith and the front line will make it easier for the rookie to pick his spots.

AFC West:

1. Denver Broncos
2. San Diego Chargers
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Oakland Raiders

Denver was the dominant force in the West last year and the pattern will repeat itself. With an overhaul of talent being placed on the defensive side of the ball, Manning won’t have the same pressure he did last season. Emmanuel Sanders will be one of the best off-season additions this team made, as he will replicate what Decker did last year.

What Phillip Rivers and Mike McCoy accomplished last season was just the start of things for the Chargers. The offense will be even better, but the defense is what will help take them to another level. Look for Melvin Ingram to have a big season as well as nifty contributions from rookie corner Jason Verrett.

The most surprising team that arose in the AFC was the Kansas City Chiefs led by Alex Smith and company. While it was a nice story, the same story will not be told in 2014. The offense leans on Jamaal Charles heavily, which will be quite the load after losing three offensive line starters during the off-season. The defense will keep Kansas City in almost every game with a great pass rush unit. Dee Ford is a rookie to watch out for.

Several aged veterans past their time signed with the Oakland Raiders during free agency, but it wont be enough to help them surge past Kansas City. The two things that Oakland did right was draft Khalil Mack and start Derek Carr over Matt Schaub. There is a chance that Carr can give the fans of the black hole some hope.

AFC South:

1. Indianapolis Colts
2. Houston Texans
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. Tennessee Titans

Despite a horrid offensive line and a non-existent run game, Andrew Luck is good enough to overcome that and bring the South title back to Indy once again. Luck gets tight end Dwayne Allen back and there is a chance he could revive Hakeem Nicks career.

Jadeveon Clowney will do that best he can to chase Luck around with J.J. Watt, but the offense will let the Texans defense down. While brining in Mallett in a trade from New England was a good move, why did it happen a week before the season opener? Mallett has potential, but might not be the answer. They will be drafting a new quarterback to compete with Mallett next year because Tom Savage is not the answer.

Gus Bradley is building something down in Florida that teams will start to take notice of over the course of the season. He has added Seahawk veterans to an already solid defense to help keep his team in every game.

There is an abundance of youth on offense and they will show promise as they grow over the season. Not only Allen Robinson and Marquise Lee, but also Blake Bortles will prove to be the real deal once he is given the starting nod. Jacksonville could be a team to watch out for to get a wild card spot in the 2015 NFL season.

Jake Locker is on his last life in Tennesse and as the season goes along rookie Zach Mettenberger will see his time. The former LSU starter showed some gun slinging abilties and college and will have some young talent on the outside to work with in Hunter and Wright.

Bishop Sankey will be one of the bright spots on this team with a good offensive line in front of him. Chance Warmack and rookie Taylor Lewan will help pave the paths for the potential rookie of the year candidate.

AFC East:

1. New England Patriots
2. Miami Dolphins
3. New York Jets
4. Buffalo Bills

The addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner further solidifies their spot at the top of the East. While Brady suffers from a lack of offensive weapons, the defense in New England will keep the pressure off the star quarterback. Oh, he also gets his buddy Rob Gronkowski back.

It is time for the Miami Dolphins to make a jump with coach Joe Philbin on the hot seat in south Florida. This is the most talent that the Dolphins have had on the roster in years and the pressure is on. When the season is all said and done, Ryan Tannehill will prove he was worthy of the eighth overall selection during the 2012 NFL draft.

Rexy Ryan got another crack at the head-coaching gig in the big apple, as he should have. He took a team with no talent offensively to an eight-win season. Geno Smith will improve this year, but he still does not have the weapons around him to take this team to the post-season. Is Eric Decker really a number one receiver? No.

Everyone is excited about the speed the Bills offense brings and they should be. Goodwin, Watkins and Woods are good weapons on the outside, but they need a quarterback. The losses of Alonso and Byrd will be felt deeply throughout the Bills fan base. That fan base will also wonder why they drafted E.J. Manuel in the first round in 2013.

NFC West:

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. St. Louis Rams

There is no reason why the Seahawks will slow down, even if the officials try to tamper down their physicality in the secondary. Russell Wilson keeps growing and after this season will be in the discussion as being a legitimate top ten quarterback.

The 49ers keep finding themselves short of achieving the ultimate prize. It came down to a throw last season and a failure in the red zone during the Super Bowl. With a defense suffering from injuries, losses in the secondary and lack of discipline the 49ers will not have enough to overtake Seattle.

Bruce Arians is doing a fantastic job in Arizona especially winning ten games last year. If it weren’t for the losses of Dockett and Washington, they could overtake the 49ers for second place. Arians is a quarterback guru and needs to find his future quarterback sometime soon. Logan Thomas could be his project, but he was wildly inconsistent at Virginia Tech.

It was a blow for the Rams when Bradford went down once again for the season, but he most likely is not the answer long term. The Rams have stacked talent just about everywhere else on the roster, so next year they will need to find their quarterback first round. Aaron Donald will be a dangerous rookie on the defensive side of the ball.

NFC South:

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Atlanta Falcons
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sean Payton and Drew Brees make their return back to the top of the division after losing it to Carolina a year ago. Pairing Jairus Byrd with Kenny Vaccaro will help Bob Ryan take his defense to the next level. Cooks, the former Beaver, will be a standout rookie amongst his peers.

Mike Smith needs to avoid another disappointment of a season or else his job could be in jeopardy. Julio Jones is bound for a monster season so the offense will be fine. The defense has a new look with some key additions up front, but still wont be good enough to win the division.

It is still a mystery why Carolina let Steve Smith go because he still has plenty of game left. The only thing that could be worse than the receiving corps for the Panthers is their offensive line. Got to feel bad for Cam Newton especially coming off a year in which they won the division.

Lovie Smith is going to build a nice team in Tampa, but it will take time. The defense will be very good as usual for a Lovie Smith led unit. The offensive line is what will hold the offense back due to the horrendous play at the guard position. Mike Glennon deserves a shot at starting after a solid rookie campaign because McCown is not the answer there for the future.

NFC East:

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New York Giants
3. Washington Redskins
4. Dallas Cowboys

Chip Kelly brings back his exciting offense for year two and there is not a team in the East that will slow it down. Although the loss of DeSean Jackson hurts, the Eagles have young wide outs that could make things happen.

It could pretty much be a toss up between the Giants and Redskins for the second spot in the East, but the Giants will make it there. Eli cannot be as bad as he was last year, so the offense could be better. If the Giants do not show any potential for growth, Coughlin could be on the outs.

So the Redskins find themselves finishing in third place and the disappointment in DC will continue to linger. The defense cannot be trusted to bring them back to the playoffs and the offense might not be either. There is no excuse for RG3 now, he is loaded with weapons. At seasons end, the Redskins could look back and realize how badly the Rams robbed them in the big draft trade.

Is there a defense that could possibly be worse than what Dallas will field this year? Got to feel bad for Romo since his offense is more than capable of putting on performances good enough for a playoff team. The defense will need serious time to rebuild; it could take a few seasons.

NFC North:

1. Green Bay Packers
2. Chicago Bears
3. Detroit Lions
4. Minnesota Vikings

Green Bay has gotten healthier on defense since last season and added Peppers to the mix. With a revamped defense, the Packers will be on the prowl come time for the post-season.

Marc Trestman has all the pieces he needs on the offensive side to get his team to compete for the North title. They have made solid additions to the defense, but it will not be enough. The defense was as bad of a unit as they have ever had in their franchise.

Golden Tate and Eric Ebron are the new kids on the block that will sure to be a pass happy offense in Detroit. Bell and Bush are a talented bunch out of the backfield and Megatron still runs the show on the outside, but the defense will hold this team back from making the playoff jump.

Mike Zimmer gets his first shot at being a head coach in the NFL and it will take time for his Vikings squad. There are a lot of young pieces on both sides of the ball and if Teddy Bridgewater can show some potential of being a future starter during the season, they will have hope going into 2015.

NFL Awards:

MVP- Aaron Rodgers
Offensive MVP- Peyton Manning
Defensive MVP- Cameron Wake
Offensive Rookie of the Year- Bishop Sankey
Defensive Rookie of the Year- Khalil Mack

NFL Playoffs:

Wild Card Round:

Baltimore Ravens over Miami Dolphins
San Diego Chargers over Indianapolis Colts
Chicago Bears over Philadelphia Eagles
San Francisco 49ers over New Orleans Saints

Divisional Round:

Denver Broncos over San Diego Chargers
New England Patriots over Baltimore Ravens
Seattle Seahawks over Chicago Bears
Green Bay over San Francisco 49ers

Championship Weekend:

New England Patriots over Denver Broncos
Seattle Seahawks over Green Bay Packers

Super Bowl:

Seattle Seahawks over New England Patriots

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Ravens to unveil Lewis statue outside M&T Bank Stadium Thursday morning

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Ravens to unveil Lewis statue outside M&T Bank Stadium Thursday morning

Posted on 03 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Just a few days before the Ravens begin their 19th season in Baltimore, they will officially honor the most decorated player in franchise history by unveiling a statue of retired middle linebacker Ray Lewis on Thursday morning.

Erected next to the statue of legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas outside M&T Bank Stadium, the Lewis statue has been in the works ever since team owner Steve Bisciotti announced his intentions of permanently honoring the future Hall of Fame linebacker at the end of the 2012 season. The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and 13-time Pro Bowl selection was the only Ravens player to be part of both Super Bowl championships, earning Most Valuable Player honors in Super Bowl XXXV and winning his second championship in the final game of his 17-year career.

Lewis will be eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

“Most times, I’m never at a loss for words, but that’s a very humbling thing,” Lewis said in late July while attending a training camp practice at M&T Bank Stadium. “This is my home. I gave everything I had to city. To have a statue in this city, it means everything.”

The organization will hold on 11 a.m. ceremony at Unitas Plaza outside the stadium with Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and former teammates scheduled to attend in addition to friends and family of Lewis. The 39-year-old will speak from the podium during the ceremony, and sculptor Frederick Kail, who also made the Unitas statue, will be present.

Fans are invited to attend the event, which is scheduled to last roughly 15 minutes.

 

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Ravens continuing to look healthy for Sunday’s opener against Bengals

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Ravens continuing to look healthy for Sunday’s opener against Bengals

Posted on 03 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens look to be in good shape from a health standpoint as they continued preparations for Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

All 53 players on the active roster were present and working during the portion of practice open to media on Tuesday. Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest), and Asa Jackson (ankle), tight end Owen Daniels (hamstring), running back Bernard Pierce (head), safety Matt Elam (leg), and offensive lineman Jah Reid (head) all took part in practice and appear on track to play against the Bengals.

Of those players with recent injury concerns, only Webb and Pierce were even listed on Wednesday’s injury report, but both were designated as having full participation.

“It’s good to have guys out there practicing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “The more guys you have practicing, the better practice you have. The numbers always help a lot.”

Smith, Jackson, and Webb appeared to be moving well during individual drills as there will be extra focus paid to Webb after he missed the entire summer while dealing with a back injury. The sixth-year defensive back also underwent sports hernia surgery in the offseason, so it remains to be seen how so much missed time since last season will impact his play in the secondary.

The Bengals ranked eighth in the NFL in passing offense a year ago, but quarterback Andy Dalton will be without No. 2 receiver Marvin Jones, who is recovering from a broken foot sustained on Aug. 9. Jones was officially ruled out Wednesday along with running back Rex Burkhead.

A day after initially filling their practice squad, the Ravens made a change to their developmental group by signing former Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jamell Fleming and cutting cornerback Deji Olatoye. Fleming was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, but Arizona cut him after only one season.

He saw action in eight games with Jacksonville last season but was cut by the Jaguars last weekend. In his rookie season, he appeared in 15 games and made three starts, registering 23 tackles and one pass breakup.

Rookie safety Terrence Brooks is now wearing No. 31, which was his jersey number at Florida State and was worn by safety Oman Brown in the preseason.

Here is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion), CB Lardarius Webb (back)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Max Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion), G/C Mike Pollak (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), OT Andre Smith (concussion)

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Ravens waive veteran linebacker Bynes, re-sign cornerback Cox

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Ravens waive veteran linebacker Bynes, re-sign cornerback Cox

Posted on 02 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens returned to the practice field Tuesday by making their first adjustment to their 53-man roster by waiving veteran inside linebacker Josh Bynes and re-signing cornerback Derek Cox.

All 53 players on the roster were present and working as they prepare for the 2014 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but the departure of Bynes was surprising as the Ravens preferred to keep special-teams standout Albert McClellan and rookie free agent Zach Orr behind starting inside linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley. Bynes made six starts last season in place of the injured Jameel McClain and collected 45 tackles and three pass breakups over 15 games.

Bynes made the final tackle of Super Bowl XLVII to help the Ravens win their second NFL championship at the conclusion of the 2012 season.

“All I can tell you about Josh Bynes is if we can ever bring him back, we will, in whatever capacity we can,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s been a Raven through and through; he’s done nothing but help us be our best; he’s [been] completely all in for everything that we’ve ever done here. I love Josh, and I know he’ll do well no matter what he does.”

With only four cornerbacks on their 53-man roster when they made final cuts on Saturday, the Ravens brought back Cox to add depth and another veteran to compete with Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown for the No. 3 cornerback spot. Baltimore signed Cox last week after he was cut by the Minnesota Vikings on Aug. 25, but he was initially cut over the weekend.

General manager Ozzie Newsome has been pursuing other options at the cornerback position as the Ravens lack depth behind starters Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, who were both slowed by injuries during the summer. The good news was the sight of Webb (back), Smith (chest), and Jackson (ankle) all taking part in drills during the portion of practice open to media on Tuesday.

Cox began his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars after being taken in the third round of the 2009 draft. The William & Mary product started 45 games for Jacksonville over our seasons before signing a four-year, $20 million contract with the San Diego Chargers prior to the 2013 campaign.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound defensive back began 2013 as a starter before being benched for poor play and losing his starting job in Week 13. He finished with 38 tackles, one interception, and seven pass breakups in 16 games, 11 of them starts. According to Pro Football Focus, Cox graded out 106th out of 110 cornerbacks to play at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps during the 2013 season.

Cox was released by the Chargers in March and signed a one-year contract with the Vikings later that month, but Minnesota parted ways with him when teams were forced to cut their preseason roster from 90 to 75 players.

Tight end Owen Daniels (leg), running back Bernard Pierce (head), offensive lineman Jah Reid (head), and safety Matt Elam (leg) were all present and participating in practice once again after they all returned to practice on Saturday. After Harbaugh had repeatedly told reporters that Daniels was dealing with general leg soreness and swelling, the 31-year-old acknowledged after Tuesday’s practice that he’s been stricken with a hamstring injury.

“I feel really good. I had a little hammy issue, but that’s all cleared up [and] I’m ready to go,” Daniels said. “I’m excited to get going this first week. I got a ton of good work in those first two weeks. Obviously, I would have liked to have been out there those middle two [preseason] games. We played it smart. Week 1 is the most important thing.”

The Ravens also have a pair of jersey number changes as rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro is now wearing No. 15 and Orr is sporting No. 54.

 

 

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Ravens add former Saints offensive lineman Marcel Jones to practice squad

Posted on 01 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens finished setting their 10-man practice squad Monday by signing former New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Marcel Jones.

A seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft, Jones has yet to play in an NFL game after spending his rookie season on injured reserve and the 2013 campaign as a member of the Saints’ practice squad. The 6-foot-7, 320-pound lineman was cut over the weekend after playing 25 snaps against the Ravens in the preseason finale last Thursday.

The Nebraska product has the ability to play tackle or guard and gives Baltimore more depth in the event of injuries to their current 53-man roster that includes nine offensive linemen.

The Ravens signed nine players to their practice squad on Sunday as offensive lineman Ryan Jensen, cornerbacks Tramain Jacobs and Deji Olatoye, defensive tackles A.J. Pataiali’i and Jamie Meder, linebacker John Simon, tight end Phillip Supernaw, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, and quarterback Keith Wenning rejoined the organization after being waived at the end of the preseason.

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Ravens sign former picks Simon, Wenning, Jensen to practice squad

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Ravens sign former picks Simon, Wenning, Jensen to practice squad

Posted on 31 August 2014 by Luke Jones

A day after trimming their roster to the league-mandated 53 players for the regular season, the Ravens began formulating their 10-man practice squad by signing three former draft picks and six others on Sunday.

The list was headlined by 2013 fourth-round linebacker John Simon, who was one of the more notable final cuts of the summer. Simon saw action in only seven games as a rookie, making four tackles while primarily serving on special teams. Despite a strong performance in the preseason finale in New Orleans, Simon was left off the 53-man roster just a year after the Ravens were so excited to select the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year out of Ohio Stat.

The Ravens signed two other former draft picks as 2013 sixth-round offensive lineman Ryan Jensen and 2014 sixth-round quarterback Keith Wenning cleared waivers and agreed to join the practice squad. Baltimore elected to enter the regular season with just two quarterbacks on the roster for the fifth straight year and had hoped that Wenning would go unclaimed after final cuts.

Cornerbacks Tramain Jacobs and Deji Olatoye, defensive tackles Jamie Meder and A.J. Pataiali’i, tight end Phillip Supernaw, and running back Fitz Toussaint were the other six players to agree to join the practice squad as the Ravens had one spot to fill as of Sunday afternoon.

All nine players currently on the practice squad spent the preseason with Baltimore. Olatoye was cut when the Ravens needed to trim their roster from 90 to 75 while the other eight were officially waived on Saturday.

The NFL expanded practice squads from eight to 10 members for the 2014 season.

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