Late for Work 5/12: Ravens Are the 'Wrong Team to Underestimate' in the AFC North

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Left: QB Lamar Jackson; Right: Browns QB Baker Mayfield

Pundits Debate Who Will Win AFC North

The AFC North is expected to be one of the toughest divisions this season after three teams made the playoffs in 2020.

That prompted ESPN's Mike Greenberg, Dominique Foxworth, Ryan Clark, and Dan Graziano to debate who they think will win the division this year.

The vote was split down the middle with two for the Ravens and two for the Cleveland Browns.

"I just feel like they're the wrong team to underestimate year-in, year-out," Graziano said of the Ravens. "If the season would have been three weeks longer last year, they would've been in a lot better playoff seeding. They were coming together at the right time.

"Given a full offseason, the history of that coaching staff, a quarterback that was MVP a couple of years ago … I would love to pick Cleveland, but there's more on the Ravens' side that's proven so that to me gives them a slight edge."

The Ravens were one of the NFL's best teams down the stretch. After overcoming a COVID-19 outbreak, they won five straight games to close out the regular season.

Baltimore (11-5) finished one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went 1-4 in their final five games after starting 11-0. The Browns also went 11-5 but lost both games to the Ravens.

Baltimore is currently the odds-on favorite to win the AFC North, and Foxworth believes they've been the team to beat in the division.

"What Cleveland has done in the offseason has been impressive, but they're going to have to do it in the regular season," Foxworth said. " … You've still got to give it to [to the Ravens] until we see proven otherwise."

However, some pundits like Clark and Greenberg are betting on the potential of the Browns. Cleveland made the playoffs for the first time in 17 seasons last year and there's a lot of hype surrounding the team under second-year coach Kevin Stefanski.

Clark likes the Browns so much that he said the division race might not even be that close.

"I think that this team is stacked," Clark said. "I believe that they win this division going away by one or two games over the Ravens."

Predictions for Ravens' Schedule Release

By this time tomorrow, we'll know exactly when and where the Ravens will be playing their regular season games in 2021.

With that in mind, Ravens Wire's Kevin Ostreicher made some predictions for the upcoming schedule release.

Another Thanksgivinggame against the Steelers.

"It was going to be a battle of two high-powered AFC North rivals with the potential to be a phenomenal matchup," Ostreicher wrote. "However, the Coronavirus hit Baltimore hard in the week leading up to the game.

"... It was still an exciting contest, but it could be that the league wants to try to have the matchup played this year when and where they originally wanted it played in 2020."

Atleast four primetime games.

The Ravens open the season on Monday Night Football in Vegas, and there will surely be more primetime matchups.

"The NFL doesn't want to give any one team too many primetime games, but they'll reward teams who are good year in and year out with big games in the best time slots," Ostreicher wrote. "With Baltimore playing in an extremely tough AFC North division plus matchups against teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams and more, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Ravens get at least four primetime games in 2021."

Could Marlon Humphrey Hear the Steelers Calling Out Receiver Routes?

Marlon Humphrey had a unique experience facing offenses last season with little-to-no fans in NFL stadiums. Sometimes that meant even hearing the opposing quarterback call out routes.

Humphrey told "The Lefkoe Show" that he could hear Ben Roethlisberger calling out receiver routes in a game against the Steelers.

"I heard Big Ben say something to the wide receivers," Humphrey said. "I'm listening and I'm like, 'Did he just tell him the play? Did he just tell him the route he's about to run?'

"And he does it again like the next play. I couldn't believe it. I don't know if they were in hurry-up and that's how they'd always done it or what, but he was just verbally telling them. … I was like, 'Crap, I think I should be able to cover this route.'"

Humphrey said Roethlisberger never threw the ball his way when he could hear the routes.

Pundits High on Ravens' Undrafted Rookies

The Ravens have a reputation for finding some of the best undrafted rookies and pundits feel this year is no different.

Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski graded every team's reported undrafted haul in 2021, and gave the Ravens an "A."

"The Ravens are consistent," Sobleski wrote. "The franchise is counted among the best at identifying talent for its scheme and developing young players. Each move the team makes reinforces this belief, and it extends into the evaluation of undrafted free agents."

The Ravens landed Pro Football Focus' top undrafted free agent in TCU safety Ar'Darius Washington, a player Sobleski said "should have been drafted."

"[Washington's] size is the only thing holding him back," Sobleski said. "Even then, his 5'8", 178-pound frame didn't prevent him from excelling at the collegiate level. In fact, he was the nation's second-highest-graded safety in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus."

Along with Washington, Sobleski pointed to offensive tackles Adrian Ealy and Foster Sarell as additions to watch. The Ravens could look to add more depth behind Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva this season.

Ebony Bird's Chris Schilser added that Tony Poljan is also a player to keep an eye on in the tight end competition.

"The competition for the third tight end spot in Baltimore is easily the most competitive race for a third tight end spot in the NFL," Schisler wrote. "... When you watch Poljan, you can see why the Ravens like him. He's a high effort player. He'll probably have to start out as a blocking tight end as he develops as a receiving threat on offense."

Before last year, at least one undrafted rookie had made the Ravens' initial 53-man roster for 16 straight seasons.

Ravens Still Earning Strong Grades From 2018 Draft

Speaking of grades, how about revisiting them?

That's exactly what CBS Sports' Pete Prisco did when went back and regraded the 2018 draft for all 32 teams.

The "A" Prisco gave for the Ravens following the draft stayed the same three years later. How did it not get an A+ plus?

"This is the draft the Ravens got quarterback Lamar Jackson, which makes the entire class a good one. He is a top-level quarterback with an MVP already on his resume," Prisco wrote.

"But before taking Jackson, they took tight end Hayden Hurst earlier in the first round, and he is now in Atlanta. But they made amends by taking tackle Orlando Brown in the third round – he was traded to the Chiefs but is a good player – and they added starting tight end Mark Andrews later in the third round. Fourth-round corner Anthony Averett has seven starts in three seasons. Starting safety DeShon Elliott and starting guard/center Bradley Bozeman both came in the sixth round."

Only the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned higher grades than the Ravens the second time around.

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