Lamar Jackson Will Go Undefeated in December And Other Predictions, Takeaways From Ravens' Schedule
One of the things that jumps out when looking at the Ravens' 2023 schedule is their three-game stretch of tough games in December.
After hosting the Los Angeles Rams the first week of December, the Ravens play three consecutive games against teams that made the playoffs last season and are expected to be contenders again this year: at Jacksonville (Dec. 17), at San Francisco (Dec. 25), and home against Miami (Dec. 31).
December hasn't been the most wonderful time of the year for the Ravens the past two seasons, as they've gone 3-5 in the month and were without Lamar Jackson for the majority of those games.
However, ESPN’s Jamison Hensley boldly predicted things will be different this December.
"Jackson not only plays in December but goes undefeated in the month," Hensley wrote. "Jackson has been unable to finish the past two seasons because of an ankle injury in 2021 and a knee injury last season. Now, with a five-year, $260 million extension, Jackson will get back to dominating in December, when he is 13-3 (.813) in his career. That's the third-best record in December since 2018 behind Patrick Mahomes (19-3) and Aaron Rodgers (17-3)."
Here's a look what else pundits said about the Ravens following the release of the schedule:
The Christmas night game at the 49ers is one of the best primetime games of the season and a potential Super Bowl preview.
NFL.com’s Adam Schein: "With the contract saga finally in the rearview mirror, Lamar Jackson is about to remind everyone why he became just the second unanimous league MVP in NFL history a few years back. I think he's about to enjoy the best passing year of his career, with new OC Todd Monken calling plays and new weapons Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers making plays. That said, the 49ers' defense finished last season ranked No. 1 in scoring and total defense. Which is why this Christmas night matchup is a gift to us all."
NFL Network's Bucky Brooks: "You have an opportunity to see the best defense in football in the San Francisco 49ers take on a former MVP who now has a collection of weapons that's very impressive: OBJ, Zay Flowers, Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman. You have a lot of weaponry around Lamar Jackson. Oh by the way, Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken is putting in a different offense to elevate the game of Lamar Jackson. So, yes, this is the one I want to see. … This could be a preview of what we see in the middle of February— Niners, Ravens in the Super Bowl."
The Ravens have the sixth-toughest schedule.
NFL.com’s Eric Edholm: "The Ravens will not enjoy a post-London game bye, zooming back to Charm City needing to prepare for the emerging Lions the following Sunday. That's not the only challenge on the Ravens' schedule this season, though. Four of the first six games are away from Baltimore (including the game at Tottenham against the Titans), and the final four games are no joke, either: at Jacksonville and San Francisco in Weeks 15 and 16, followed by a tough home duo against the Dolphins and Steelers to close it out. There's also a tricky Thursday game in Week 11 against the Bengals, although it does come amid a three-game home stretch. The Ravens don't face the most treacherous schedule this season, but there are some notable speed bumps they'll need to navigate along the way."
The Ravens have one revenge game.
Hensley: "There really is only one game for the Ravens to circle: Sept. 17 at the Bengals. Baltimore has lost three straight in Cincinnati, including last season's 24-17 loss in the AFC wild-card round. Of course, the Ravens were forced to start a backup quarterback in Tyler Huntley and two third-stringers in Josh Johnson and Anthony Brown in those defeats because of Jackson's injury. This is a different matchup with Jackson, who hasn't started in Cincinnati since a 38-3 win in the 2020 regular-season finale."
The most interesting Week 1 debut in the NFL is Monken with the Ravens, who host the Texans.
ESPN’s Matt Bowen: "The opening week of the season will give us a look at how quarterback Lamar Jackson fits in a new offensive system under Monken. I'm expecting more spread, trips and empty formations here to create space for Jackson as both a runner and thrower in 2023."
Ravens vs. Texans is No. 6 on a list of the 10 best games of the season.
Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr: "Strange choice? Maybe. … Here's why I'm interested in this game, in particular: Baltimore is very athletic up front on defense and presents a lot of challenges to young quarterbacks. John Harbaugh's record against rookie quarterbacks is excellent and, like Bill Belichick to the Jets, can represent a bit of a benchmark as to how prepared the young passer can get in a short period of time. There are some ancillary benefits to this game. We'll get to see Derek Stingley Jr. against either Odell Beckham Jr. or Zay Flowers. We'll get to see Will Anderson against a very good offensive line. And we'll get to see how [rookie QB C.J.] Stroud can maximize possessions against a team and a coach that still value milking the clock, all in the first game of the year."
Game that has gotten tougher: vs. Detroit, Week 7
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "When the Ravens and Lions last played in September 2021, Baltimore needed a record-breaking 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker to leave Detroit with a 19-17 victory. That Detroit team started 0-10-1, but these aren't the lowly Lions anymore. Behind one of the league's most creative offenses, the Lions finished 2022 with their first winning record since 2017 and were in playoff contention until the final week. They'll enter this season with something the Lions haven't had to deal with in a while: expectations. They'll pose a challenge to the Ravens, particularly since the game comes on the heels of the London trip."
The Ravens' record will be …
Sporting News’ Edward Sutelan: 11-6. "The Ravens have a better group of receivers in 2023 than perhaps any Jackson has had and the defense should still be among the league's best. Baltimore has all the makings of a playoff team, even if the road to getting past Cincinnati remains a major challenge."
Zrebiec: "10-7. The Ravens should be a much-improved team, but there are still so many questions. How quickly will Jackson adapt to Todd Monken's offense? Can Jackson stay healthy? Will young defensive players emerge at key positions like edge rusher and cornerback? This schedule doesn't do Baltimore any favors. Still, as long as Jackson is on the field, the Ravens are good enough to beat anybody."
Jackson's Impact on Ravens Defense Is Significant
Few players can impact an offense like Jackson, but data shows that he also has a positive impact on the Ravens defense.
"When looking at several Ravens-focused behavioral data points that I track, one thing remains pretty clear: Despite how you feel about Jackson's ability to throw the ball, he is by far the most effective game manager for this Ravens team, and that has real value," Pro Football Network’s Bret Yarris wrote. "Consider this: Through the first 11 games of the season (when Jackson started), the defense was on the field for less than 28 minutes 55% of the time. They were on the field less than 30 minutes 63% of the time. You may ask, why is this important? The answer is simple. This was saving the Ravens' defense.
"Through that part of the season, the defense was not yet the elite unit we would see later in the year. They were giving up .64 points per minute of possession time on average. That does not tell the whole story. They actually had a score prevention behavior rate of more than that in 63% of those 11 games and averaged over one full point per minute of possession time in four of those contests. It stands to reason that if the defense had been on the field any longer than they needed to be, or in other words, if Jackson could not help control the clock on offense by possessing the ball, it stands to reason the defense would have given up even more points in those games, resulting in more losses."
Ravens' Roster Ranked Eighth-Best
Pro Football Focus ranked the roster of all 32 teams, and the Ravens came in at No. 8.
"With Lamar Jackson back in the fold, the Ravens will once again have one of the most dynamic offenses in the game. And with a full season of Roquan Smith on the defensive side of the ball, yards will be hard to come by against the team," PFF's Dalton Wasserman and Jim Wyman wrote.
Here are some additional excerpts from PFF's analysis of the Ravens:
Biggest strength in 2023: Ground game
"Retaining Lamar Jackson was huge for this Ravens offense as they continue to boast one of the game's top rushing attacks. Not only is Jackson among the best running quarterbacks in football, but the team is also deep at the running back position with the likes of J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill set to return in 2023."
Biggest weakness in 2023: Pass rush
"The only returning Ravens defensive linemen to record a 70.0-plus pass-rush grade last season are David Ojabo and Michael Pierce, neither of whom reached 100 total snaps due to injury. The Ravens are banking on developmental players like Ojabo and 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh to take big leaps forward in 2023."
X-Factor for 2023: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
"Having had a full season to recover from a torn ACL suffered in Super Bowl 56, Beckham looks to become the first true No. 1 receiving threat for Lamar Jackson. That being said, the 30-year-old Beckham hasn't had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 6 of 2019, so it's fair to wonder if his best years are behind him."
Left Guard Is Biggest Remaining Roster Hole
The biggest of the Ravens' few remaining holes is at left guard, according to Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz.
"Ravens fans are probably just excited that this no longer says 'Wide receiver.' The Ravens have a fairly strong roster with good depth at most positions, making this a difficult choice," Schatz wrote on ESPN.com. "But their most questionable starter right now is pretty clearly left guard Ben Cleveland.
"Cleveland was a 2021 third-round pick but has only started five games in his first two seasons. He replaces the departed Ben Powers, who signed in Denver. Cleveland needs to take a leap this season, and the Ravens need him to be a steady starter. Behind him are veteran John Simpson and sixth-round rookie Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu."
Also among the options at left guard are the versatile Patrick Mekari, who can play any position on the offensive line, and 6-foot-8, 380-pound second-year lineman Daniel Faalele, who played 170 snaps at tackle as a rookie.