Five Ravens Predictions, Including for Flacco, Perriman and the Final Team Record
As a fresh Ravens team prepares for the second half of the season and a playoff push coming out of their Week 10 bye, it feels like a good time to look forward and predict what will happen.
WNST's Luke Jones has done just that, giving readers five projections for the final seven games. Below are his predictions in bold, along with my reaction.
1. Jimmy Smith will be named team MVP and be invited to his first Pro Bowl.
As long as Smith remains healthy (he's been nursing a sore Achilles) then Jones' prediction for Smith to make the Pro Bowl is a lock. At least, it better be. Fans, coaches and players need to do the right thing by voting Smith to the Pro Bowl (see below to do so). Smith is solidly among the top five cornerbacks in the league. The strength of the Ravens is the defense, and Smith is the strength of the defense, in my estimation, which is saying something when you also have Brandon Williams, C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle playing at high levels. Pro Football Focus grades Smith as the sixth-best corner, he's notched three takeaways, two touchdowns and there's this …
2. Alex Collins will become Baltimore's first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett in 2014.
My initial knee-jerk reaction to this prediction was that Collins would have too many* *yards to make up in the final seven games to hit 1,000. I thought since he didn't consistently become the starting running back until Week 6, he'd be too far behind. But, despite having substantially fewer carries than some of the NFL's leading running backs, Collins has still amassed 521 yards this season. That's good for 13th best in the league. The 12th best is Denver's C.J. Anderson with 536 yards, which he's run for with 33 MORE carries. That just speaks to Collins' league-leading 5.6 yards per carry. So, with a heavier workload in the second half, he should be able to reach 1,000 yards even if his impressive average per carry goes down. One wrench that could prevent him from hitting the milestone is if Danny Woodhead (hamstring) and Terrance West (calf) cut into his workload upon their returns.
*3. Breshad Perriman will be a healthy scratch at some point down the stretch. *
I'm not seeing this one, although I do understand Jones' sentiment. After all, Joe Flacco's passer rating when targeting Perriman is 6.3, according to PFF. "Perriman has caught just seven of the 27 passes thrown his way, a major reflection of a dysfunctional passing game," Jones wrote. "Unlike Chris Moore and Michael Campanaro, Perriman doesn't contribute on special teams and isn't playing with any confidence." I just don't get the feeling the Ravens are throwing in the towel on Perriman. His snap count has stayed relatively the same the entire season despite his struggles. Outside of the Chicago Bears game when Perriman left with a concussion, he's always seen between 35 and 49 snaps. Campanaro would have to prove he can stay healthy in order to leave Perriman on the sideline, and Moore would have to prove he's worthy of more time on offense. When the top three receivers were out with injuries against the Minnesota Vikings, Moore played 89 percent of the offensive snaps, but only had two catches on eight targets for 36 yards. Campanaro and Moore might be deserving of some of Perriman's snaps, but I don't envision Perriman becoming a healthy scratch.
4. Joe Flacco will avoid full-season career lows in passing yards and touchdowns — barely.
If Jones' prediction doesn't come true, it will be awfully hard for the Ravens to make a playoff push. Flacco is on pace to finish with 2,757 passing yards, which are fewer than his rookie year (2,971) and 2015 (2,791) when he missed six games with a torn ACL. But with healthier receivers, the expected return of Woodhead, and less shuffling along an injury-plagued offensive line, Flacco should have a better second half to the season. "He'll pick up his production, but it's tough not to feel Flacco is a broken product of his environment and injuries," wrote Jones, referring to his opinion that the team has not given Flacco enough help on the offense.
5. The Ravens will finish 8-8 for the second straight year and will hope other wild-card contenders in the AFC continue to struggle.
I predicted at the beginning of the season that the Ravens would go 9-7 and secure a wild-card spot. I'm sticking by that prediction, which would mean Baltimore will have to win five of the next seven (and the Buffalo Bills will have to drop a few games). That's a tall order, but with the team getting healthy and a favorable schedule, it's realistic. Jones makes fair points about the Ravens not putting together a three-game winning streak since 2016, the offense ranking No. 30 in the league and the defense being good but not great. So, it's possible he'll be correct with a predicted 8-8 finish. "Don't be totally shocked, however, if the Ravens or another team sneaks into the AFC playoffs with an 8-8 record," Jones wrote. "Yes, the conference is that bad beyond the top few teams."
King: NFC Is Far and Away the NFL's Power Conference
It's unclear how many wins it will take for the Ravens to punch a postseason ticket, but Jones is absolutely right in saying an 8-8 finish could do it in the AFC. If that's the case, it's a good thing that the Ravens hold head-to-head tiebreakers over some wild-card contenders, including the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders.
Conversely, it* *will likely take a lot more to advance to the postseason in the NFC. Teams in that conference may have to notch 11 wins to get in.
"The NFC is far and away the NFL'S power conference with seven weeks to play," wrote Sports Illustrated's Peter King.
"Point differential is not the tell-all stat in football, but it's interesting, and it's recently been a great indicator of NFL power. … Eight of the best 12 teams in point differential reside in the NFC this year. Only Jacksonville (fourth), New England (fifth), Kansas City (eighth) and Pittsburgh (12th) from the AFC crack the top dozen."
King looked at the top two point-differential leaders over the past four seasons, and they almost always met in the Super Bowl. It isn't a perfect indicator of playoff success, as Baltimore bucked the trend in 2012, but it's been "spot-on" the past four years, says King.
With that background, take a look at the point-differential leaders by division below. The AFC North is the lowest.
"If I were picking the order of teams this morning, the NFC would have four of the top five teams. In order: Philadelphia, New England, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans, Carolina," wrote King.
Ravens Have Fourth 'Easiest' Remaining Schedule Among Playoff Contenders
If you ask NFL coaches and players, there's no such thing as an "easy" schedule in the NFL because the teams are so evenly matched.
That said, there are certainly tough and … less tough schedules. And ESPN's Aaron Schatz determined that the Ravens have the fourth "easiest" schedule remaining of all playoff contenders.
That's pretty nice, until you realize the Pittsburgh Steelers have the third-easiest, and the Buffalo Bills – perhaps the Ravens' biggest threat to the final wild-card spot –have the fifth-easiest.
Schatz used fancy math and analytics to determine the "quality" of opponents, along with home vs. away games, to rank the degree of difficulty for each team's remaining slates.
"Schedule matters in the NFL," Schatz wrote. "Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles had the second-hardest schedule by Football Outsiders metrics and went 7-9. This year, the Eagles' schedule ranks 30th so far, and they've got the best record in the NFL at 8-1. The New England Patriots rode the NFL's easiest schedule to a 14-2 record last season; the Carolina Panthers rode the easiest schedule to a 15-1 record the year before."
Below is Schatz's full list, which, interestingly, has all AFC teams in the easy list and all NFC teams in the tough list. That's likely a result of teams mostly playing opponents in their own conference.
Five easiest remaining schedules:1. Jacksonville Jaguars (average team winning percentage: .596)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (.591)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (.558)
4. Baltimore Ravens (.545)
5. Buffalo Bills (.541)
Five toughest remaining schedules:1. Los Angeles Rams (average team winning percentage: .469)
2. Atlanta Falcons (.471)
3. Green Bay Packers (.473)
4. Seattle Seahawks (.476)
5. Dallas Cowboys (.477)
Schmuck: Ravens Must Take Advantage of Opportunity
The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck picked up on the optimism around the Ravens training facility, including from Head Coach John Harbaugh Monday.
Despite losing five of the last seven games, the optimism is warranted given the healthy state of the roster and the wide-open AFC playoff race. And that's why Schmuck says the Ravens have a real chance to salvage the season and must take advantage of the situation.
It starts by taking advantage of a banged-up, Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers this Sunday.
"The pervasive mediocrity that has kept hope alive for a wild-card playoff berth might turn out to be a lifeline for a Ravens team that was too banged up to be more competitive over the first half of the season," wrote Schmuck. "But it also leaves little room to alibi a similarly dispiriting performance over the next seven games. … If the team's fortunes take a hard downward turn, then everything is in play."