Why the Ravens Will Repeat As AFC North Champs
Heading into the 2020 season, the Ravens will try to do what no AFC North team has ever done – win the division three years in a row.
Ebony Bird's Norman Getsinger highlighted three reasons why the Ravens will repeat as division champs.
Reason No. 1:Fewest holes
Aside from the Ravens, 2019 was a down year for the AFC North. A division that usually has at least two teams competing for a playoff spot finished with just one team with a winning record, though the Steelers were still in it until the final week.
The Browns failed to live up to lofty expectations, the Steelers struggled following Ben Roethlisberger's season-ending elbow injury, and the Bengals began an overhaul in their first year under new Head Coach Zac Taylor.
"When comparing the Ravens roster to the other three rosters in the AFC North, the Ravens look to have the strongest roster from top to bottom," Getsinger wrote. "... Even though the Ravens have questions of their own, such as what to do with Matthew Judon and which free agents they want to sign back to the team, the questions facing the other three teams are much more pressing and severe."
All of Baltimore's offensive starters are under contract for 2020. Marshal Yanda's future remains one of the Ravens' biggest questions, but the core surrounding Lamar Jackson remains intact.
The defense could see a more significant change with Judon and others set to hit free agency. However, key pieces such as Earl Thomas III, Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Williams, and others are still around. Cornerback Tavon Young is expected to return from a neck injury, and the Ravens could add more to the defense this offseason.
Reason No. 2:More upside
After finishing with a franchise-best 14-2 record last season, Getsinger believes the Ravens have the most upside in the AFC North. It's all centered around Jackson.
"The Ravens have the reigning MVP on their team and he is still younger than Joe Burrow," Getsinger wrote. "I have no idea what Jackson's ceiling is. His growth from Year 1 to Year 2 was incredible. Can he get even better in his third year? He certainly has the offense to do even better next year."
Even after an MVP campaign where in which he led the NFL in touchdown passes and broke the single-season quarterback rushing record, Jackson can still improve. He wasn't perfect and has the work ethic to continue to get even better heading into his third season.
As for the Bengals and the Browns, Getsinger questioned how the young head coaches would perform.
"For the Bengals, they have questions everywhere," Getsinger wrote. "Can Taylor elevate the Bengals to a winner? Will Burrow come in and change life in Cincinnati? What holes can the Bengals fill in the upcoming draft and free agency?
"The Browns are the most difficult team to pin down because they have a ton of pieces on their team, but it just did not work at all last year."
For the Steelers, their success could depend on the health of Roethlisberger.
"The Steelers look like they can be better than last year, but even that is not guaranteed. I am not entirely convinced that we will see a better version of Roethlisberger in 2020," Getsinger added.
Reason No. 3:They're hungriest
Winning 14 regular season games is great, but the disappointment from the divisional round loss to the Tennessee Titans lingers. Getsinger believes the Ravens will use their lowest point of the season as motivation.
"There is perhaps no team that will have a bigger chip on their shoulder than the Ravens," Getsinger wrote. "The loss to the Titans was unexpected and obviously heartbreaking for the Ravens as they had the best regular season in the NFL. … Being denied the Super Bowl this year should only drive the Ravens, even more, to be great."
Getsinger pointed to examples when NFL teams lost in the postseason and reached the Super Bowl the following season. The Kansas City Chiefs did it just this year.
Early Super Bowl LV odds pin the Ravens right behind the Chiefs. As the reasons above have pointed out, Baltimore has the pieces to make it happen.
How Lamar Jackson's MVP Season Inspired a Cause Off the Field
The impact of Jackson's MVP season extended beyond the football field. It inspired people to give back.
What started as a tweet from Dallas Morning News' Michael Gehlken "encoura[ging] winners of their respective fantasy football leagues to consider donating a portion of their first-place purse to the preferred charity of an NFL player who helped make it happen," resulted in more than $23,000 in donations to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore.
"Jackson's impact on the 2019 fantasy season was indisputable," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Nearly 23 percent of championship teams from Yahoo fantasy football leagues had the Ravens dual-threat quarterback on their roster.
Jackson's breakout year was historic and there's a good chance you were celebrating your fantasy championship if he was on your team.
"According to Greg Ambrosius at the National Fantasy Football Championship, Jackson was the quarterback for the teams that won the NFFC's three biggest contests," Zrebiec wrote. "Two of those fantasy owners took Jackson with their 11th-round pick, and the other selected him in the 12th round. Ambrosius estimated that Jackson helped earn NFFC owners more than $1 million in winnings from its contests."
That resulted in more than 200 donations from fantasy owners who benefited from Jackson's success. With the money, 20 children from the Boys and Girls Clubs will be taken care of for the entire year, Zrebiec wrote.
In two seasons in Baltimore, Jackson has already made a significant impact on the Ravens and the Baltimore community. Boys and Girls Clubs president and CEO Jeff Breslin has seen the difference it can make.
"It was actually a very big moment for us; it was a catalyst for us," Breslin said. "The real-time benefits of an unexpected $23,000 bucks around the holidays for an organization like ours is a big deal."
Ravens Have Easiest Strength of Schedule in 2020
Last season, the Ravens were just the fourth team since the NFL switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978 to receive a perfectly balanced schedule.
While the dates and times for the 2020 schedule haven't been released yet, it's expected to play to the Ravens' advantage again. They have the "[add]easiest" strength of schedule based on opponent winning percentage (.438). Of course, no game is "easy" in the NFL, regardless of team records.
The Ravens were 8-1 against teams with a .500 record or better last season. Only five of their upcoming opponents finished with winning records in 2019.
"Part of the appearance of an easier schedule comes thanks to the AFC North taking a massive step back as a division last season, with the three other teams posting a 16-32 combined record," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. "And because of the way the schedule works, Baltimore and the rest of the AFC North will square off against the AFC South and NFC East next season, with their combined 56-72 records."
Stevens noted that teams could improve through free agency and the draft, but the Ravens are in a good position regardless. Things look favorable for the AFC North as a whole. The Steelers have the second-easiest strength of schedule, the Bengals fourth, and the Browns sixth.
- Former Ravens wide receiver Jeremy Maclin joined Glenn Clark Radio and talked about why free-agent wide receivers would want to come to Baltimore.