NFL Preview- Baltimore Ravens
Continuing with the AFC North division, we head to the state of Maryland and the Baltimore Ravens. Other than the whole Ray Rice fiasco in the offseason and mere two-game suspension, the real story is continuing to find strong leadership on the field to replace Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Head coach John Harbaugh is coming off his first season of missing the playoffs since he was hired as the head man in Baltimore. Can the Ravens get themselves back to the postseason?
The starting quarterback is without a doubt Joe Flacco. He struggled last year after losing Anquan Boldin to free agency, Dennis Pitta went down in training camp with serious hip injury, and Ray Rice struggled to find any openings in the running game. Because of these issues, Flacco seemed to force throws that led to a lot of interceptions. Even with that, the Ravens still just missed the playoffs.
This Flacco knows he can rely on wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta on the field. Pitta needs to stay healthy or the passing game will be in serious trouble. Jacoby Jones also needs to take on a greater role at wide receiver to give Flacco another weapon he can look to in the air attack. Marlon Brown should continue to grow and maybe even solidify himself as the number two WR.
At running back, Ray Rice returns but will miss the first two games due to his alleged actions on his then-fiance in Atlantic City during the offseason. If the offensive line can open up some holes, Ray Rice should be able bounce back from last season's off year. Bernard Pierce returns to provide Rice with breathers. Finishing up the depth at this are former Notre Dame Irish RB Cierre Wood and Michigan Wolverine Fitzgerald Touissant.
On defense, Daryl Smith continues his attempt to replace Ray Lewis' leadership at linebacker. Baltimore added C.J. Mosley in the Draft to be the man inside to replace the hole Lewis' retirement left and has yet to be filled. Safety Matt Elam also continues to try to fill the hole Ed Reed's departure left there. Terrell Suggs returns as the top pass rushing option for the Ravens. Haloti Ngata is back to plug up the middle of the field at nose tackle. Even without Lewis and Reed, the Ravens still have a fairly strong defense that should keep them in every game this season.
Let's see how their 2014 season looks like:
Week 1- The Ravens open up at home against a real tough Bengals squad. It will be a hard-fought match, but Cincinnati has just bit more in their arsenal. Baltimore starts 0-1.
Week 2- A quick four-day turnaround for Baltimore, but they stay home for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While a truly hated rivalry runs deep with these two teams, Baltimore is still in good shape and Pittsburgh is getting to be old with all of their key players. Ravens get their first win and are 1-1.
Week 3- Baltimore finally heads on the road but stays in the division as they travel to Cleveland. This game could go in two different directions depending on who starts at QB for the Browns. At the end of the game, the Ravens win but get a scare with Brian Hoyer the Browns QB. They improve to 2-1.
Week 4- They head back home to face the Carolina Panthers. While Cam Newton may not have any known entities to get the ball to, he is still very dangerous. Newton will give the Ravens defense a big headache and the stout Carolina defense will put a hurting on Flacco and company. Ravens fall to 2-2.
Week 5- Baltimore heads to Indianapolis to face the Colts. Andrew Luck will shine at home in a tough match-up for the Ravens. Baltimore loses two in a row and are 2-3.
Week 6- Staying on the road, the Ravens head to Tampa and the upstart Buccaneers. While the Bucs will show a huge improvement from a year ago, Baltimore will still get the win. They get back to .500 at 3-3.
Week 7- Back at home, the Ravens take on the Atlanta Falcons. Flacco will enjoy one his better games of the season against a struggling defense. Ravens get over .500 at 4-3.
Week 8- The Ravens next head to Cincinnati to close out their season series with the Bengals, looking for a split. Unfortunately, the Bengals are still better and stronger than Baltimore. They fall back to .500 at 4-4.
Week 9- They now head to Pittsburgh looking for the sweep. The game will not come easy for the Ravens, and the Steelers pull it out late at home. Ravens now 4-5.
Week 10- This week the Ravens are back at M&T Stadium for the Tennessee Titans. Ravens head to their bye week with a nice win, now 5-5.
Week 11- After ten grueling weeks, a much needed week off.
Week 12- The Ravens head the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the New Orleans Saints for Monday Night Football. Tough game back from their bye week, as Drew Brees connects with Jimmy Graham at least twice. Ravens drop to 5-6.
Week 13- Baltimore goes back home to face a team they could be fighting for a playoff spot with in the San Diego Chargers. Being at home helps and the Ravens win, improving to 6-6.
Week 14- They then head to Miami and the Dolphins. Suggs tees off on the young Ryan Tannehill, notching himself a minimum of three sacks. Baltimore jumps to 7-6.
Week 15- Baltimore hosts Jacksonville and get there third straight win. They improve to 8-6.
Week 16- The Ravens head to Houston and the struggling Texans. The Ravens continue their longest winning streak of the year to get to 9-6.
Week 17- Baltimore ends their regular season at home against the Browns. By this point the Browns will have been eliminated and could have the rookie Johnny Manziel under center to see what they have in him. This helps the Ravens earn a fairly easy victory. Ravens finish 10-6 and earn a wild card spot.
The Ravens seemingly have the talent to win at least ten games, but match-ups against the Browns early in the season and their match-ups with both Tampa Bay and Atlanta could go differently than expected. The Ravens could add up enough mistakes to drop from ten wins to as bad as 7-9. It is all a matter of the offense holding on to the ball, staying on the field, and scoring some points consistently.