When called on to make predictions, I always feel compelled to begin with a disclaimer: You're looking at a guy who is more comfortable with words than numbers.
That's pretty obvious, isn't it?
I mean, I'm as into analytics and the lessons of data as anyone. They've become intrinsic to pro football – other sports, too – and can tell you a lot about what you're seeing.
But if you're looking for me to generate my own data, i.e., pinpoint the number of wins I'm expecting from the Ravens this season, well, sorry. I'm more comfortable offering adjectives.
Honestly, I think guesstimating a number is somewhat pointless. There are outside factors involved, vagaries in the equation, that could impact the number but aren't necessarily controllable. For instance, how well does the opposition play in a given week? (Oh, yeah, those guys.) And does the guaranteed weekly weird officiating call work for or against you?
Bottom line, I'm not offering a number that would effectively serve as my commentary on what I'm expecting from the Ravens in 2019. But I'll gladly offer some adjectives that, I think, actually do a better job.
I think they're going to be interesting. Dangerous. And in the end, pretty darn good.
More specifically, I think they're going to have a winning season and find themselves knee-deep in the hunt for a playoff berth.
I think I'm safe in suggesting many local fans feel similarly. They're excited about the team and its prospects. True, optimism always reigns as a season begins, but I detect the meter rising a couple of notches more than usual.
Why? I think I know. The organization has completely turned a page offensively, surrounding a young, fast, unpredictable quarterback with a new crew of playmakers. There'll be hiccups, for sure, but the "same, old Ravens" tag is history.
Yes, it remains to be seen how the offensive line comes together and how the defense deals with major personnel losses from the offseason. But Baltimore O-lines tend to endure challenges, and the defense features a top-notch secondary and a canny, aggressive coordinator who makes things happen. In my view, there is reason to believe the various pieces can form a winning puzzle.
The rest of the football nation isn't as enthusiastic. The national media isn't necessarily down on the Ravens; it just isn't buying what they're selling quite so enthusiastically.
One major sportsbook listed the Ravens' Super Bowl odds at 40-1 when the offseason began and they're still 40-1 as a new season begins. That puts them near the middle of the NFL's 32-team pack.
Again, I think I know why. Lamar Jackson is all of 22, embarking on his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. He struggled in his biggest pro game to date, a playoff defeat. And there's no denying a lot of defensive production has departed.
Hey, I can make the case that, big picture, the Ravens are not that far down the road in a re-tooling process that could last several years. They're really young in places, with room to grow. The front office addressed one major need in the offseason (wide receiver) with the understanding that sometimes choices must be made and other needs (O-line) likely wouldn't be addressed for another year.
The decision to absorb all of the remaining dead money from Joe Flacco's contract this year, as opposed to spreading it over two years, also suggests they're playing a long game of sorts, as opposed to focusing solely on what happens in 2019.
But that doesn't mean they aren't expecting to spiritedly defend their AFC North title this year and win enough games to return to the playoffs.
It's a scenario with immediate pressure. The Ravens need to win their season opener Sunday against a Miami team embarking on a thorough rebuild. The Ravens also need to win their home opener a week later against an Arizona team with a rookie starting quarterback.
A major commandment of NFL life is "thou shalt take what the schedule offers," and it's offering the Ravens the real possibility of a 2-0 start. With that as a springboard, things could get quite interesting around here, and I expect they will.