Can't Wait For Sunday; Bring On The Bills
It's here. Well, it's almost here.
The Ravens' season opener. This Sunday, M&T Bank Stadium at 1 p.m. It's against Rex, Tyrod and the rest of the Bills.
Oh my! My heart is already beating a little faster. The clock is not moving fast enough.
Let's go! We've waited long enough. C'mon man, we're ready. Can we play today?
And, who are these 2016 Ravens? You're curious. We're curious. I'm curious. You don't know until a few games are played.
Is This The Ravens Team That:
…Brings us all together for a fantastic run to the playoffs?
…Is too old at key positions, has injuries like last year, and stumbles through the second half of the season?
…Sees warriors like Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith Sr., Elvis Dumervil, Justin Forsett, Eric Weddle and Devin Hester Sr. stand tall and lead us to the playoffs?
…* *Showcases young talent like Breshad Perriman, Ronnie Stanley, Kenneth Dixon, Timmy Jernigan and Terrance West as they emerge as big-time players?
…* *Starts the season under the radar, especially on the national level, and then ends up having games flexed to Sunday Night Football? (We were flexed out of two last December.)
We won't know many answers by this Sunday night. More than any other set of NFL games, opening weekend provides the most oddities. But, we'll have an idea for sure.
Suggs and Smith Sr. smiled this week and told reporters, "Wait and see." They said it with a glint in their eyes and a confident smile. Their enthusiasm helped.
Want To Be Nervous?
Rex Ryan is 6-1 on opening days as a head coach, including a 27-14 victory over the Colts in 2015 for his fifth-straight season debut victory. Since he has been an offensive coordinator, the Bills' Greg Roman, a former Ravens* *assistant, is 5-0.
The Bills led the NFL in rushing a year ago (152 yards per game), and when their big three on offense – QB Tyrod Taylor, RB LeSean McCoy and WR Sammy Watkins – played together, the offense was the fourth best in the NFL (behind Carolina, Arizona and New England). (Because of injuries, they played together 10 games.)
This is not helping you or me sleep, is it?
We all know Rex Ryan and his philosophy on defense well. He plans to stop our run and attack Joe Flacco. Cut off the head, and the body will die. That's Rex. Get the QB. Rough him up. Make him hesitate on his reads. Confuse offensive linemen. Scheme to have a free runner at Joe. Get the QB before he gets you. That's what we'll get Sunday.
Want To Feel Better?
Let's go to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, who knows the Ravens as well as any reporter in the country. Hensley has covered the team since 2000, our first Super Bowl season. He originally did this for The Baltimore Sun before moving over to the ESPN giant. I've mentioned before that Hensley is really good at predicting what we will do. He thinks we'll beat the Bills as a start to a 10-6 season.
Judy Battista, formerly of The New York Times and now with NFL.com, believes that the Ravens will make the playoffs, "Assuming that the offense doesn't look like a M.A.S.H. unit again. Joe Flacco and Steve Smith Sr. will lead a rebound." USA Today's Jarrett Bell, who attended a training camp practice and our third preseason game, predicts that we will make the playoffs as the first Wild Card entrant.
And, this came in late yesterday afternoon: Mike Florio of NBC-TV and Pro Football Talk noted that he believes the Ravens will win the AFC North, beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship and lose to the Packers in the Super Bowl. Like that kind of bold thinking.
Under The Radar
Except for winning the Super Bowl, which we've done twice since the turn of the century (2000 and 2012), the best seasons for teams and fans are those when you win unexpectedly. Being under the radar is not a bad thing, especially in a league that prides itself on everyone having the ability to beat everyone else. Our reality is that we're the 5-11 team from 2015 that set an NFL record by having 14 of our 16 games decided by eight or fewer points. … Until we prove otherwise.
Ravens PR intern David Wolf found 42 "NFL experts" predicting 2016 Division winners. None selected Baltimore. Sports Illustrated had 11 of their NFL specialists select playoff teams – none included the Ravens. (A year ago, Peter King of SI and Monday Morning Quarterback fame, said we would go to the Super Bowl.) The highest listing for the Ravens in any of the NFL "power polls" is 15 (of the 32 teams) by ESPN.
How's this from one of NFL.com's experts (Elliot Richardson)? He wrote that the Ravens' ceiling is 11-5: "So much goes right for the Ravens in the double-digit-win narrative. Joe Flacco is mint following his recovery from a torn ACL. Breshad Perriman's less heavy hair allows him to hit the deep ball like former Raven Torrey Smith…" Richardson added that our floor is 5-11: "Sixth overall pick Ronnie Stanley proves to be a bust on the offensive line. The passing game ends up going through 37-year-old Steve Smith Sr. again. LB Terrell Suggs provides no lift in his return…"
Here's a prediction you can take to the bank: Ronnie Stanley won't be a bust. He's a very impressive rookie.
On Wednesday,* *a confident Suggs said: "Wait and see. It's all football when it comes down to it. There's getting the job done, and there's not getting the job done. We're the men to get it done. We trust in Coach [Harbaugh]. We trust in Ozzie [Newsome], and we've got the right 53 men (on the roster)."
We haven't become stupid. We are one of five teams in the NFL to make the playoffs in six of the last eight seasons. Harbs and his staff are excellent teachers, motivators and planners. Ozzie, Eric DeCosta and the personnel braintrust is really good at finding players who "Play like a Raven." It's going to be a difficult, entertaining journey, beginning Sunday against the Bills. Would you want it any other way?
As Orioles' manager Buck Showalter likes to say, "I like our guys." I really do. Let's start out with a win. Let's beat the Bills.
Talk with you next Friday,
P.S. Best line of the week came from Steve Smith Sr. After he made a corner look bad in Wednesday's practice, he spun the ball on the ground, looked around and said: "Like Stella, I've got my groove back." Who's going to tell him otherwise? Like Suggs announced, "Wait and see."