Late for Work 4/20: Will Ravens Return to Playoffs? Schedule Pros/Cons and Game Predictions

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Will Ravens Return to Playoffs? Schedule Pros and ConsWant to know what analysts are saying about the Ravens' 2018 schedule?

Here's the summary: It's fair, but tough – tougher than 2017.

It's a bigger test than last year, in part, because the Ravens play the NFC South (three playoff teams last year) instead of the NFC North (one playoff team) and have brutal road matchups. The assumption is they'll also face more starting quarterbacks after so many went down with injuries last year.

"This is a difficult schedule," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "There's nothing about it that is unfair. The Ravens will have an uphill road to get back to the postseason."

"Man, that road slate looks rough, with away games against the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, L.A. Chargers and Tennessee Titans on top of the usual divisional fare," added The Sun's Childs Walker. "If we had to set the odds today, would the Ravens be favored in any of those games?" 

Baltimore can't afford to start slow or sustain a lot of injuries in training camp like last year because the schedule is front-loaded with travel, important divisional matchups and playoff opponents.

If you ask the folks at The Sun, the Ravens will struggle to finish above 8-8.

"The prediction here is that the Ravens will go 5-3 at home [vs. seven non-playoff teams], but 1-7 on the road [five playoff teams] for an overall record of 6-10 and miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year," wrote Edward Lee.

"I don't believe in projecting a team's record now, when there's still so much we don't know," Walker added. "But at first glance, it seems the Ravens might have to fight to stay above .500 again."

Pros- Nicely timed bye in the middle of the season in Week 10
- Finishing against the Cleveland Browns instead of the tired tradition of a Cincinnati Bengals finale (seven of the last eight seasons)
- All home games in November
- Get the Thursday night game out of the way in Week 2

Cons- Front-loaded with road games (five of the first eight)
- Six of first nine games are against 2017 playoff teams, including a four-week stretch starting in Week 6 at Tennessee, vs. New Orleans, at Carolina and vs. Pittsburgh
- No primetime games at M&T Bank Stadium, only two overall and no Monday Night Football
- For the eighth time in 11 years, the Baltimore-Pittsburgh primetime game takes place at Heinz Field 

ESPN Game-by-Game Predictions

If you don't like projecting wins and losses in April, that's understandable. Feel free to move onto the next section.

For those of you that like to have a little fun trying to size up the Ravens' win-loss chances, ESPN has published its predictions.

The website believes Baltimore will finish with a 9-7 record. That's exactly how the Ravens finished last year, which wasn't enough for a playoff berth. It was, however, for two other 9-7 teams (Bills, Titans), who advanced off tiebreakers. Would it be enough for the Ravens this time?

Here are ESPN's predictions with my one-line summary of the website's reasons for each:

Week 1: vs. Buffalo Bills – Ravens usually start strong, WIN
Week 2: at Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Flacco struggles in Cincy, LOSS
Week 3: vs. Denver Broncos – Broncos have been a poor road team, WIN
Week 4: at Pittsburgh Steelers– Ravens haven't always finished off Big Ben, LOSS
Week 5: at Cleveland Browns – Flacco is the winningest QB vs. Cleveland since 2008, WIN
Week 6: at Tennessee Titans – Titans are tough to beat at home, LOSS
Week 7: vs. New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees breaks his losing streak vs Ravens, LOSS
Week 8: at Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton dominates at home, LOSS
Week 9: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – Unlike last year, Ravens won't fly home from London to play rival, WIN
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: vs. Cincinnati Bengals – Fourth-and-12 redemption, WIN
Week 12: vs. Oakland Raiders – Derek Carr should play, not EJ Manuel like last season, LOSS
Week 13: at Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan is at his best at home, LOSS
Week 14: at Kansas City Chiefs – Second-year QB Patrick Mahomes is taking over, WIN
Week 15: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Last year's worst defense, WIN
Week 16: at Los Angeles Chargers – Chargers usually slump at this time of year, WIN
Week 17: vs. Cleveland Browns – Ravens have won nine of last 10 home games vs. Browns, WIN

Cutting Brandon Marshall Doesn't Mean Giants Will Sign Dez Bryant; Last Chance to Sign Willie Snead

It sure made for juicy gossip Thursday when the New York Giants cut Brandon Marshall a day after the wide receiver wrote, "Sorry baby bro, no room," to Dez Bryant.

Twitter wanted to believe that Marshall was being cut to make room for Bryant, but that's not necessarily the case.

"The Giants parting ways with Brandon Marshall on Thursday had nothing to do with Dez Bryant hitting the open market," wrote The New York Post's Paul Schwartz. "Yes, one big wide receiver leaving could mean the door is open for another big receiver to enter. But not in this case. Bryant was let go on Friday by the Cowboys and has gone public with his desire to come to the Giants.

"Marshall, 34, is coming off ankle surgery and, in the minds of the Giants, is not healthy enough to keep on the roster. This move saves the Giants $5.1 million on their salary cap, money they need to sign their draft picks and also to possibly add a tall receiver with some experience."

So, basically, this means it's still possible the Ravens bring Bryant to Baltimore. But nothing has changed in terms of the biggest question that will determine the outcome: Is Bryant interested in joining the Ravens?

It kind of feels like a love triangle, doesn't it? Bryant made it clear that he'd like to join the Giants, but New York's interest doesn't appear mutual. The Ravens are reportedly interested in Bryant, but at least so far, he hasn't expressed a similar desire.

Meanwhile, there are some who are wondering whether Marshall would be a good option in Baltimore if Bryant chooses to go elsewhere.

Maybe, but Marshall is 34 and was released with a failed physical designation. Zrebiec would personally like to see the Ravens stop pursuing veteran free agent wide receivers and stock up in the draft next week.

Here's one other quick note: If the Ravens want to try to bring Willie Snead to Baltimore, today is the final day offers can be made to restricted free agents.

USA Today Polls NFL Agents: Ozzie Newsome Ranks as Most Respected GM

And here's yet another reason why watching Ozzie Newsome retire from his general manager post of 23 years will be so difficult.

He's helped create a Ravens reputation of respect and class. Even the guys who are on the other end of complex negotiations with him say so.

USA Today polled 25 NFL agents on a variety of topics, including which general managers they respect the most and least. Newsome came out on top of the respected list with one more vote to edge out the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick.

"You can sit down and have a frank discussion with him. He won't pull punches, but he's fair," one agent told USA Today.

"This is a nice honor for Ozzie to receive on his last run as the top decision maker before handing the reins over to Eric DeCosta," wrote Baltimore Beatdown's Jacob Louque. "It's also interesting to see it come from NFL agents, a demographic not necessarily known for showing deference to the organizations that they have to negotiate against in favor of the players they represent."

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