Late for Work 11/2: At Midseason Point, Win-Loss Predictions for AFC North

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At Midseason Point, Win-Loss Predictions for AFC North

You'd think we'd learn our lesson by now, and realize the 2017 season is wild and unpredictable.

But, nah.

Knowing how volatile the league is only makes trying to project wins and losses more fun, and that's what Pro Football Focus (PFF) is doing now that we've reached the midway point of the season. 

With a 4-4 start, the Ravens are second in the division behind the Pittsburgh Steelers and one game out from the sixth and final wild-card playoff spot. If the Ravens are going to punch their postseason ticket, they'll have to do better in the second half.

"We are going to need to go more than .500 the rest of the way to accomplish what we want to accomplish, but we need to get about 10 wins," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We need to find a way to put wins together."

Can the Ravens prevail in six of their next eight games? Or maybe even five of the next eight? Five might be enough.

PFF doesn't think so. The website is projecting another four wins for Baltimore.

But that doesn't mean it can't happen.

The good news is the Ravens are starting to get healthy at the right time, as quarterback Joe Flacco (concussion) is expected to play Sunday, along with wide receiver Mike Wallace (concussion). The team already got back wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (foot). The offense is expecting to get a big weapon back with running back Danny Woodhead (hamstring) returning to practice yesterday and eligible to come off injured reserve after the bye.

The second piece of good news is that the schedule gets considerably "easier." The first half of the Ravens' schedule was the ninth-most difficult. It becomes the 22nd-most difficult in the second half.

  • Week 1:@ Bengals W 20 – 0
  • Week 2:vs Browns W 10 – 24
  • Week 3: vs Jaguars L 7 – 44
  • Week 4:vs Steelers L 26 – 9
  • Week 5:@ Raiders W 30 – 17
  • Week 6:vs Bears L 27 – 24
  • Week 7:@ Vikings L 16 – 24
  • Week 8:vs Dolphins W 0 – 40
  • Week 9: @ Titans (4-3)
  • Week 11: @ Packers (4-3)
  • Week 12: vs. Texans (3-4)
  • Week 13: vs. Lions (3-4)
  • Week 14: @ Steelers (6-2)
  • Week 15: @ Browns (0-8)
  • Week 16: vs. Colts (2-6)
  • Week 17: vs. Bengals (3-4)

Here's how PFF envisions the rest of the year shaking out for the AFC North:

(6-2) Pittsburgh Steelers: 11.3 wins
Remaining strength of schedule: 25th
Sam Monson: "The Steelers haven't been the unstoppable force on offense it looked like they would be before the season, but they are still 6-2, and were the first team to stop the Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburgh's schedule is slated to get a lot easier down the stretch so we may see them look a lot closer to that potential than they have so far, especially with the continued strong play of WR Antonio Brown."

(4-4) Baltimore Ravens: 8.1 wins
Remaining strength of schedule: 22nd
Monson: "The Ravens, like the Steelers, are slated to see their schedule get a lot easier down the stretch, and they may need that to contend for a wild-card spot as the season wears on. QB Joe Flacco is currently the 29th-ranked QB in overall PFF grade with a mark of 69.5."

(3-4) Cincinnati Bengals: 7.5 wins
Remaining strength of schedule: 4th
Monson: "The Bengals are going to have to contend with one of the league's toughest strengths of schedule going into the back end of the season, and they haven't been able to top .500 with a far easier slate of games thus far. Cincinnati's offense has been much improved after changes to the scheme earlier in the season, and they will need it to be in the second half of the year."

(0-8) Cleveland Browns: 2.4 winsRemaining strength of schedule: 3rdMonson: "The Browns are currently one of two winless teams, and they've achieved that despite a schedule that has been middle of the pack in terms of difficulty. In the second half of the season that schedule is looking significantly tougher, and is going to make it hard to find wins. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer is the lowest-graded QB at PFF, and has been a major problem for the offense."

Joe Flacco Reportedly Clears All Five Steps of Concussion Protocol

Flacco made it pretty clear he would be able to play this Sunday after sustaining a concussion in last Thursday night's game against the Miami Dolphins, as he told reporters that he's "ready to go." But he stopped short of providing details about his progression through the concussion protocol.

 This report ought to erase any remaining doubt.

We already know that if it were up to Flacco, he would've tried to return in the Miami game. The doubt had more to do with whether doctors would approve his return, and this report says they have.

He was a full participant in practice, and in the portion open to the media, Flacco played like his normal self. Have a look for yourself:

Greg Roman Deserves Credit, Thank You Seattle, More Thoughts …

If you had been told before the season that the Ravens would lose both their starting guards (Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis) and top three running backs (Kenneth Dixon, Terrace West and Danny Woodhead), you'd probably think they'd be in for another year ranking near the bottom of the league in rushing.

Instead, all the Ravens have done is pound their way to a No. 5 overall league ranking in rushing yards and a No. 8 ranking in rushing yards per game.

How have they done it?

Greg Roman and Alex Collins.

"The Ravens' offensive struggles have overshadowed what a fine job Senior Offensive Assistant and Tight Ends Coach Greg Roman has done with the redesign of the running game," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "To [rank so high] at this juncture of the season with the instability the Ravens have had up front and in the backfield is a huge credit to Roman."

Meanwhile, Collins leads all NFL running backs (with 40 carries or more) in yards per carry at 6.0. He has been a huge key to success, and you can't help but wonder what would've happened had the Seattle Seahawks not cut him when they trimmed their roster to 53 in September.

"Pete Carroll has forgotten more about football than I'll ever know, but it is curious that a team in the bottom half of the league in rushing and one that had just 33 rushing yards Sunday (30 of them by quarterback Russell Wilson) couldn't find a role for Collins," wrote Zrebiec.

Things are bound to only get better with the return of this guy:

Zrebiec offered 10 quick thoughts in his latest column, which you can read fully here, and I've pulled a few out below:

  • "Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith has been held without a catch in back-to-back games and has just one reception for 6 yards over the past three games. I can think of a team that could probably use him."
  • "It's early, but you wonder whether the Ravens passing on JuJu Smith-Schuster with their second-round pick this year and taking outside linebacker Tyus Bowser at No. 47 overall will eventually be talked about in the same manner as the Ravens selecting offensive tackle Ramon Harewood in the sixth round of the 2010 draft over wide receiver Antonio Brown, who went one pick later to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nah, that's probably a stretch."
  • "The Ravens had a league-low six interceptions in 16 games in 2015. They have 30 picks in 24 games since."

Not Only Is Ryan Jensen a 'Nasty' Enforcer, But He's One of the NFL's Best Centers Too

You want the quote of the day yesterday?

Here ya go:

Apparently, Jensen has been bragging in the locker room about how much love he's received on social media for burying Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. He's also been praised for his annoying mosquito-like play that gets under defenders' skin.

I say, brag away. It's well deserved.

When a franchise quarterback specifically says how appreciative he is of an offensive lineman having his back, that's only going to stoke the fire.

Oh yeah, Jensen is playing really well too. Not only was he one of the top graded centers last week, but he's the third-best center of the entire season, according to PFF. Only four-time Pro Bowler Alex Mack and Super Bowl Champion David Andrews are ahead.

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