Late For Work 4/9: Experts Pick Ravens As Bounce-Back Team Of 2014

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Experts Pick Ravens As Bounce-Back Team Of 2014

Nearly half of the 2013 playoff teams were nowhere to be found in the postseason the previous year.

The Kansas City Chiefs (2-14 record in 2012), Philadelphia Eagles (4-12), San Diego Chargers (7-9), New Orleans Saints (7-9) and Carolina Panthers (7-9) all bounced back from losing seasons in 2012 to advance in 2013.

If history is any indication, that trend will likely continue.

With that in mind, NFL.com asked its panel of experts which non-playoff participant from the 2013 NFL campaign has the best shot of bouncing back and winning Super Bowl XLIX?

Of the panel of six, half picked the Ravens as their bounce back team. The Bears, Steelers and Giants each got one nod.

Here's what they had to say:

Daniel Jeremiah: Baltimore appears primed to rebound in 2014 "The Baltimore Ravens immediately come to mind. Last year was an adjustment period after the departures of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, among others. I see the defense enjoying a bounce-back season, especially if the Ravens can address the second safety spot (alongside Matt Elam), giving them a potent enough back end to compete with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Co. in the AFC," Jeremiah wrote. "I expect Joe Flacco to play much better under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Between free-agent acquisition Steve Smith, a healthy Dennis Pitta and Torrey Smith, Baltimore has viable weapons in the passing game. And Kubiak's offense almost always features a strong running game, which would take a lot of pressure off Flacco."

Charley Casserly: *Joe Flacco and the Ravens still have a championship mix *"I think three non-playoff participants from last season have a shot at taking part in postseason play this time around: Baltimore, Arizona and Washington," Casserly wrote. "All three teams have QBs that can get them to the playoffs. I don't see any of them being good enough to win the Super Bowl, but May's draft could make each better. If forced to choose one, I think Baltimore has the best shot. The Ravens have a good QB – and the best balance between offense and defense of the three teams listed."

Dave Dameshek: Baltimore looks like a fine candidate ... if it can survive a tight AFC North race
"The Bears, Cardinals, Texans, Browns and Steelers (in that order) all have a shot. But since the question asks which team has the best shot, I'll point to the Baltimore Ravens," Dameshek wrote. "They're just 14 months removed from winning their last Super Bowl thanks largely to occasionally elite QB Joe Flacco. Now, if you watched Flacco last season, you know the fall of 2013 wasn't one of those occasions – but that's likely owed to an almost-empty cupboard of pass catchers. That won't be an issue in 2014, thanks to the veteran additions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, along with the return of Dennis Pitta at full strength. The offensive line also has experienced some mild upgrades and figures to be further addressed in next month's draft.

"The Ravens' biggest obstacle to getting back to the postseason? A rugged AFC North that presents three viable foes: the Bengals arguably boast the conference's most talented roster (aside from at the QB position), the Steelers' defense almost certainly will cut down on the big plays that killed 'em last year and the Browns have emerged from their early-February apocalypse to cobble together an intriguing mix of dynamic players. Matter of fact, it wouldn't be that shocking to see any of the four win the division in 2014."

Johnny Unitas Voted Best QB Of All Time

Baltimore Colts' Johnny Unitas has been declared the best quarterback of all time by voting fans at NFL.com.

The league website set up an NCAA bracket-like tournament with a field of 32 quarterbacks in four "regions" based on the era they played.

Unitas represented the Baby Boomers region in the championship round, and easily beat Joe Montana from the Generation X region. Unitas won in a landslide with 72 percent of votes.

But Unitas had some close calls along the way, especially against Millennial Donovan McNabb.

On the road to winning the crown, Unitas beat out Bob Griese (89 percent to 11 percent of votes) in Round 1, Roger Staubach (73-27) in Round 2, Terry Bradshaw (53-47) in Round 3, McNabb (51-49) in Round 4, and Montana (72-28) in the fifth and final round.

So there you have it.

Unitas is the greatest of all time, thanks in part to legions of Colts and Ravens fan voters.

Ravens, Steelers Have Similar Draft Targets?

Could AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore be targeting the same prospects in the draft?

CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown thinks there's a chance based off the teams' needs and draft position. Only two picks separate them, with the Steelers picking first at No. 15 and the Ravens at No. 17.

"Already intense rivals on the field, the Ravens and Steelers could be targeting some of the same players in the draft," Brown wrote. "At least two players should be high on both teams' draft boards - safety Calvin Pryor of Louisville and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan of Michigan."

The Ravens need a complementary free safety to second-year Matt Elam, and right tackle is the only spot on the offensive line without a solidified starter if Kelechi Osemele stays at left guard. Meanwhile, the Steelers want to get younger at safety after losing Ryan Clark and they could have Troy Polamalu mentor a rookie as a long-term answer. Plus they need help along the offensive line too.

Pryor and Lewan could be a viable option for either team, says Brown.

"Why does Lewan fit both the Ravens and Steelers?" Brown asked. "Both teams need offensive line help, and Lewan is capable of playing either left tackle or right tackle. Some scouts think Lewan could be a top-10 pick. But if he slides to No. 17, the Ravens might view Lewan as a right tackle capable of starting immediately

"Fitting that the Steelers and Ravens are eyeing some of the same players. These rivals like keeping an eye on each other."

Ravens Salary Cap Allocation Per Position

With the Ravens reportedly about $6 million under the salary cap limit, ESPN's Jamison Hensley breaks down money behind the 60 players under contracts.

What I found most interesting was the percentage of cap money allocated to each position. Take a look:

  • Quarterbacks: 3 players, 13.02 percent of Ravens' total salary cap
  • Running backs: 5 players, 9.09 percent of total cap
  • Wide receivers: 8 players, 6.24 percent of cap
  • Tight ends: 4 players, 4.13 percent of cap
  • Offensive line: 11 players, 15.03 percent of ca
  • Defensive line: 7 players, 17.93 percent of cap
  • Linebackers: 9 players, 15.36 percent of cap
  • Cornerbacks: 4 players, 11.6 percent of cap
  • Safety: 6 players, 4.12 percent of cap
  • Specialists: 3 players, 3.46 percent of cap
  • Dead money: $6.2 million

Quick Hits

  • Chris Wesseling believes the Ravens have the second-most improved offense since the end of the 2013 season with the additions of Kubiak, Smith and Owens and the re-signing of Pitta and Eugene Monroe. "The Baltimore Ravens' signing of tight end Owen Daniels capped off one of the most impressive free agency periods for an offense in rebuilding mode," he wrote. [NFL.com]
  • Which returning Ravens face the most pressure in 2014? Brown names five candidates, including Ray Rice, Flacco, Bernard Pierce, Terrell Suggs and Monroe. [CSNBaltimore.com]
  • Hensley is looking at 30 prospects the Ravens could target in the draft, starting with Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro. "The Ravens could still use a young tight end because Owen Daniels is signed for only one year," he wrote. "But there are too many other bigger needs for the Ravens to use a second-round pick on Amaro. While I don't see him falling into the third round, he would be on their radar if he did unexpectedly slide." [ESPN]
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