Five Reasons Why the Ravens Will Make the Playoffs in 2018
Is this the season the Ravens end their three-year playoff drought?
Providing a dose of optimism for all 32 teams, NFL Media is conducting an ongoing series in which it provides five reasons why each club will appear in the postseason. Marc Sessler gives his five reasons for the Ravens below.
This list is missing what seems to be the Ravens' most obvious playoff factor: a return to better health and play from quarterback Joe Flacco – the single biggest determinant in Baltimore advancing. Nonetheless, Sessler shows there are other reasons for optimism.
1) One of the AFC's top defenses
Quote: "The Ravens missed the postseason last autumn, but rolled through much of the campaign with a playoff-worthy defense. … Baltimore's defense will decide how far the Ravens travel come September."
Analysis: Defense has always been the calling card of the Ravens. That was no different last year when the unit finished No. 6 in points allowed and No. 1 in turnovers created. There's no doubt that improvement is needed from the remade offense (ranked No. 27 overall last year), but defensive players and coaches are more focused on finishing games on their side of the ball. The Ravens blew two fourth-quarter leads in key games down the stretch last year against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 14) and Cincinnati Bengals (Week 17), causing them to just miss the playoffs. A similar heartbreaking finish occurred in 2016 when receiver Antonio Brown beat Ravens defenders by reaching across the end zone for a touchdown that ended Baltimore's playoff hopes. Baltimore is returning all 11 Week 1 starters from last year, and the talented group wants to finish what it started.
2) New-look receiver room
Quote: "The Ravens addressed a shoddy wideout group by importing a flock of known veterans."
Analysis: The passing offense has practically nowhere to go but up after finishing 29th in the league last year, which was a product of both a lackluster receiving group but also Flacco's injured back for the first half of the year. Flacco's improved health was evident in the second half of the season and again over the spring as he's so far enjoyed one his best offseasons in recent memory. That will be as big, if not bigger, than the new veteran additions of Michael Crabtree, John "Smokey" Brown and Willie Snead IV. Don't forget about a pair of mid-round rookie receivers, two high-round tight ends and the improvement of Chris Moore. Crabtree is expected to have the biggest impact considering he's had more career completions (579) than the rest of the receiving corps (390), but Brown and Snead also showed early chemistry with Flacco during offseason practices.
3) Alex Collins and Baltimore's backfield
Quote: "The Ravens want to pound the ball and create balance around a latter-stages Joe Flacco. Marshal Yanda will help as one of the finest guards in the NFL, but the rest of Baltimore's line has issues. That was also true last year, but Collins just barreled on through. With Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon in the wings, the Ravens showed how they feel about this group by ignoring runners in the draft."
Analysis: Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said he tried to draft a running back in April, but it's still true that he and the rest of the Ravens like what they have with Collins and company. Despite only starting 12 games, Collins still almost rushed for 1,000 yards and was the biggest offensive playmaker. Offensive line "issues" isn't the right term from Sessler. There are certainly unknowns with guard Alex Lewis coming off shoulder surgery, the starting center position unsettled and rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr.'s ability to start right away still undetermined. That said, the Ravens have more than five starting-quality offensive linemen; they just need to find the best combination and settle in.
4) Justin Tucker
Quote: "He's nothing short of the best kicker in club history and a future Hall of Famer."
Analysis: There's a growing sentiment that Tucker could wind up as the best kicker of all-time, and with a leg as big as his, he's a major boost to the offense that simply needs to get him within 50 yards to consistently score points. Tucker is 15 of 17 on kicks from 50 yards and beyond over the past two seasons (33 converted over his career) and he's perfect on all 205 of his career extra points. With the new kickoff rule changes, Tucker will also be an asset to the defense in pinning opposing offenses deep in their own territory.
5) Total organizational consistency
Quote: "The Ravens don't flinch. Players come and go, but Baltimore's organizational health remains. From ownership to the front office to John Harbaugh's coaching staff, this team has uniformly scouted players and stuck to their shared philosophy for years."
Analysis: It's the Ravens front office that has the team in the playoff mix year-in and year-out, regardless of inevitable swirling storms. Injuries have decimated the roster the past two seasons, yet Harbaugh has kept his team in playoff contention down the stretch. Ozzie Newsome is indisputably a Hall of Fame-worthy general manager, and Owner Steve Bisciotti is regularly cited as one of the best in the league.
Who Is the Best Newcomer to the AFC North?
Four ESPN AFC North writers picked who they think will ultimately make the biggest impact on the division this year, and the Cleveland Browns had the most representatives.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor received two votes while receiver Jarvis Landry received one. The only non-Brown to get picked was Crabtree.
The Browns brought in Taylor, a former Ravens sixth-round draft pick and four-year backup to Flacco, as a bridge quarterback while first-overall pick Baker Mayfield develops. Taylor brings dependability, security and professionalism to the position.
"He has the inside track on best newcomer because the Browns can only improve, and Taylor will be a catalyst for that improvement," wrote Steelers beat reporter Jeremy Fowler. "Even a modest win total will be a credit to Taylor, who's not a top-10 quarterback but is solid and avoids turnovers. If the Browns can avoid quarterback shuffling for, heck, half a season, they might just stumble into some wins because of continuity and a steady running game."
Cleveland backed in the Brinks truck to lure Landry to town with a reported five-year, $75.5 million contract extension after trading for him in March. That was the biggest contract given out this offseason in the division, so it wouldn't be surprising if he ends up having the biggest impact.
"While it's hard to imagine he'll live up to the contract, he certainly comes with credentials, making the Pro Bowl three times in his first four NFL seasons and catching a total of 400 passes," wrote Bengals beat writer Katherine Terrell. "Landry was one of the flashiest additions to the division this year and could help the Browns make some noise."
If you ask Jamison Hensley, the best newcomer will come out of Baltimore, not Cleveland. The Ravens signed the 10-year veteran for about a third of the cost that the Browns spent on Landry, but Crabtree has the potential to transform the receiving corps, especially in the red zone after catching at least eight touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
"Crabtree won't be running past cornerbacks," Hensley wrote. "He won't be catching 90 passes. But Crabtree has drawn comparisons to another physical receiver who excelled at making contested catches in Baltimore. If Crabtree can make an Anquan Boldin-type impact, he can significantly help the NFL's 29th-ranked passing attack."
Is Ronnie Stanley in Line for His First Pro Bowl Season?
When Baltimore used their No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, they invested in Ronnie Stanley, hoping he'd bring stability to the all-important left tackle position for the first time since Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden retired.
Stanley has proved to be a solid selection, admirably protecting Flacco's blindside the last two seasons. As the Notre Dame product heads into his third year, Baltimore Beatdown's Evan Mazza wonders whether Stanley can take a Pro Bowl-sized step forward.
"Stanley has progressed nicely, allowing just three sacks in his first two seasons to become the team's second-best offensive lineman behind six-time Pro Bowl selection and two time First-Team All-Pro Marshal Yanda," Mazza wrote.
"After the retirement of Ogden, the Ravens went through a carousel at left tackle with players like Michael Oher, Eugene Monroe, Bryant McKinnie, and Jared Gaither unsuccessfully filling the void. In his first two years in Baltimore, Stanley has shown he is the caliber of player the Ravens have spent a decade looking for to man the position."
Stanley will have his hands full this season, as he's slated to take on challenging pass rushers like the Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett (twice), Denver Broncos' Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, Oakland Raiders' Khalil Mack, Atlanta Falcons' Vic Beasley and Los Angeles Chargers' Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
"If Stanley succeeds against the formidable group of pass rushers he will compete against this season, then he may finally receive the notoriety that he has deserved," Mazza wrote. "While he will have some competition, if the Ravens offensive line continues its momentum from last year with Stanley and Yanda leading the charge, then it could be enough to get Stanley his first Pro Bowl appearance."
Top 10 Ravens Without a Super Bowl Ring
The Ravens enjoyed unprecedented success by winning the Super Bowl twice in their first 16 years of existence. That means some of the all-time greatest Ravens like Ogden, Flacco, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and others are sporting at least one ring.
That said, there are many other Ravens favorites who sacrificed much for the team, but didn't get the hardware they desired. Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler named his top-10 Ravens without a Super Bowl ring:
10) QB Vinny Testaverde
9) CB Samari Rolle
8) RB Willis McGahee
7) LB Bart Scott
6) FB Lorenzo Neal
5) LB Elvis Dumervil
4) LB Jarret Johnson
3) TE Todd Heap
2) WR Derrick Mason
1) WR Steve Smith Sr.
· "This could be the first time in years the Ravens keep three quarterbacks. Flacco and Jackson are locks and Griffin could make the roster unless there is a dire need at another position," wrote Edward Lee in his quarterback position review. "If not, he should get a chance to showcase himself in preseason games and possibly catch the eye of another team. Coach John Harbaugh said during minicamp that he would like to see Flacco and Jackson on the field at the same time, so that bears watching in preseason games, although the Ravens won't want to show too much to their opponents. This is the best group of quarterbacks the Ravens have had since Tyrod Taylor was backing up Flacco. Harbaugh has even talked up Woodrum." [The Baltimore Sun]