Can Ravens Post Winning Record Against AFC North Opponents?
The last time the Ravens posted a winning record against the AFC North was in 2012, when they went 4-2 and were also crowned division champs and Super Bowl champs.
Beating division opponents is priority No. 1 in any season, and could be an early indicator of Baltimore's ability to rebound from its first losing record in the John Harbaugh era.
Can the Ravens post a winning record against the AFC North this season?
"How the Ravens fare head-to-head vs. the AFC North in 2016 will be crucial in determining their playoff fate," wrote CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown.
"I think it will be the best division in the AFC," he added in another article.
As Brown points out, the Ravens didn't accomplish that feat last year, finishing 3-3 despite sweeping the Pittsburgh Steelers. Usually stout at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens suffered defeats at home to both the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. And that was with quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., and running back Justin Forsett still healthy. They were also swept by the Bengals.
"Three of the Ravens' final six games are against either the Steelers or Bengals – Week 12 vs. the Bengals; Week 16 at Pittsburgh; and Week 17 at Cincinnati," wrote Brown. "It's hard to imagine a scenario where the Ravens lose those three games and still make the playoffs."
The Ravens want to win 100 percent of their games, but here are three goals I think they need to aim for to post a winning record in the AFC North:
1) "Protect their house" and win all three division games at M&T Bank Stadium
2) Sweep the Browns, who could be breaking in a new quarterback with Robert Griffin III
3) At least split games with the Steelers and Bengals, which would mean beating the Bengals for the first time in three years
If the Ravens post a winning record, but are still swept by the Bengals, it would be disappointing. To take the next step and reclaim the division crown, Baltimore will need to knock Cincinnati off its perch.
"[T]his losing streak has to end and it has to end now," wrote Baltimore Beatdown's Evan Mazza.
"[F]or the 2016 season the first step in winning the AFC North division for the first time since 2012 is beating the Cincinnati Bengals. Throughout the Ravens history they have always tried to build a team to beat the Steelers, but for this upcoming season, they must hope that they have built a team that can finally topple the Bengals."
Who Is The Best Newcomer To The Division?
While we're talking about the AFC North, let's take a look at ESPN writers' picks for the "best newcomer" to the black-and-blue division.
There are plenty to choose from, including Griffin, Tyler Boyd, Corey Coleman, William Jackson III, and Kamalei Correa. But they didn't make the list.
Each team reporter chose a different player, two of which were Ravens. Let's take a look at all four so we can get a feel for the division's new blood and see how they could impact Baltimore.
Jeremy Fowler, Pittsburgh Steelers reporter: Ronnie Stanley
"Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens' No. 6 overall pick, will play right away and play well. Not sure yet whether he'll be a star, but he will be solid. He was a bit erratic at Notre Dame, picking his spots for when he wanted to dominate. All the tools are there. It's tempting to place receiver Corey Coleman in this spot because the Browns so desperately need receiving help, but he needs time to develop. … Both the Bengals and Steelers invested in secondary help high in the draft, but that position requires patience and nuance, so first-year impact could be spotty."
Coley Harvey, Cincinnati Bengals reporter: Ladarius Green
"No newcomer should have the immediate impact on his team's success as new Steelers tight end Ladarius Green. A year after setting career highs in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in San Diego, Green comes to Pittsburgh to replace the retired Heath Miller. Because Miller was such a valued piece of Pittsburgh's explosive offense, Green comes into a ready-made situation that caters to the use of pass-catching tight ends."
*Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens reporter: Eric Weddle *"This is an easy call because Weddle was the only top-20 free agent signed by any of the AFC North teams. Few safeties have been better than Weddle over the past five years. He is the disruptive safety and field general the Ravens have desperately needed since the departure of Ed Reed. This is a major step in turning around a Ravens defense that finished last in the NFL with six interceptions and allowed a franchise-worst 30 touchdown passes. This is also a major coup for Baltimore considering it had to beat out the Cowboys, Raiders and AFC North rival Steelers to get him."
*Pat McManamon, Cleveland Browns reporter: Paul DePodesta *"The best newcomer to his division isn't on the field but in the front office. The Browns' hire of longtime baseball guy Paul DePodesta drew snickers and raised eyebrows and wonder around the NFL when it was announced. However, he is an exceptionally intelligent thinker who challenges those around him to look at different ways to get the same job done. He brings new ideas, and has the chance to alter the landscape about how teams structure and utilize their front offices. DePodesta's hire may sound crazy to some, but it also may work."
Kendrick Lewis Gets Married!
It's wedding season and several Ravens have tied the knot during their break before training camp.
Most recently, the Zuttahs were married with their dog, Ace, as a groomsman. And now we can congratulate Kendrick Lewis. He posted some pictures from his wedding on Instagram and I look forward to the movie …
Ray Lewis Game-Used Helmet Up For Auction
Goldin Auctions has three items from Baltimore football history up for bid, with the marquee item being an autographed Ray Lewis game-used helmet that he wore during Super Bowl XXXV.
As of this morning, the highest bid is $5,000, and there are 22 days left to put in an offer.
Other items up for auction are former Ravens offensive lineman Sammy Williams' 2000 Super Bowl ring and former Baltimore Colts Head Coach Don McCafferty's 1970 Super Bowl ring.
(Hat tip to The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec)