Preseason Power Rankings: Ravens Don't Stay Down For Long
Let's take a look at what happened the year following the Ravens' last four losing seasons.
2002: 7-9 record -------> 2003: 10-6 record and won the AFC North division title
2005: 6-10 record -----> 2006: 13-3 record and won AFC North division title
2007: 5-11 record -----> 2008: 11-5 record and AFC championship appearance
2015: 5-11 record -----> 2016: TBD
Notice a trend?
"The Ravens don't stay down for long, so expect a big bounce back following their 5-11 2015 season," ESPN wrote in its preseason power rankings.
It appears the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports" is looking beyond Baltimore's bottom line, and is instead factoring in what contributed to the Ravens' fall last season and the team's history of bouncing back.
Baltimore has the highest power ranking of any team that lost 10 games or more last season. Of those 10, the Ravens lost a whopping nine by one score.
"I could not be happier to see that there actually are humans who realize the Ravens weren't as bad as its record showed last year," wrote Baltimore Beatdown's Matthew Cohen. "The Ravens had some of the worst luck in the NFL last season. There is no way that the Ravens lose that many close games, and have as much bad luck as it did last year again."
In addition to the close losses, the Ravens also had 20 players land on injured reserved. Among the 20 were some of the most impactful starters on the roster, including quarterback Joe Flacco, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. and running back Justin Forsett.
While ESPN's No. 12 ranking is encouraging, the Ravens are still considered the third-best team in the AFC North behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 6) and Cincinnati Bengals (No. 7).
I have a feeling, however, Ravens fans will like the team's average ranking. Baltimore relishes the underdog role.
"History says a lower ranking has worked in the Ravens' favor," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "In 2014, the Ravens were No. 14 in the preseason and advanced to the AFC divisional playoffs."
Below are the 11 teams ESPN ranked ahead of Baltimore:
1) Seattle Seahawks
2) Arizona Cardinals
3) New England Patriots
4) Green Bay Packers
5) Carolina Panthers
6) Pittsburgh Steelers
7) Cincinnati Bengals
8) Denver Broncos
9) Kansas City Chiefs
10) Minnesota Vikings
11) Oakland Raiders
Steve Smith Sr.'s Goal: Upset Opponents' Grandmas For Killing Their Little Boys' Dreams
When players retire from professional sports, they'll often say they knew it was time because the fire was out. They no longer had the drive to grind through another season.
Steve Smith Sr. isn't just known for his fire; he's known for a blazing inferno.
Smith is 37 years old and coming off an Achilles tear, so it was fair for SportsCenter's Scott Van Pelt to ask if that inferno is still burning. Smith eliminated any doubt.
"I'm going to enjoy playing football, and I'm going to enjoy my teammates. But, if you are not on my team, I am not your friend," Smith said.
"So, my goal is when you're my opponent, when your mom or dad or grandma turns on the television and sees me making a play, they will be upset because I killed their little boy's dream."
OK, we'll take that as a "yes," Steve.
Smith participated in this interview before the Ravens announced he passed his physical and would return to practice soon, which is why he is coy about when he'll get back on the football field.
Don't let him fool you. Agent 89 is back.
Mike Wallace And Joe Flacco Are Locker Room Buddies
Quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Mike Wallace have only been playing together for about three weeks, but based on how often they connect in practice, it feels like they've been together for three years.
Flacco is finding Wallace on deep passes, but he's also targeting him over the middle, in the red zone, on fade routes and underneath.
"So, why have Flacco and Wallace hit it off so quickly? It's all about location," wrote Hensley. "Wallace just happens to be right next to Flacco in the locker room."
How did that happen?
Not even Wallace knows.
"Who do I need to pay for doing that for me?" Wallace said to Hensley with a smile.
When Wallace signed with the Ravens back in March, despite having other suitors, he said a major reason for his decision was Flacco. He felt a change to a quarterback with a big arm would help with a turnaround after setting career lows in receptions (39) and receiving yards (473) last season in Minnesota.
"Back from afar, I knew he was good," Wallace said. "But he's a guy you have to be on the team with to know exactly how good he is."
The feelings of admiration run both ways between receiver and quarterback. Flacco counts the ways he loves Wallace …
Suddenly Defense Getting Better Of Offense … Think It Has Something To Do With Suggs' Return?
Of course Terrell Suggs is garnering the most attention at Ravens training camp these days.
You can't help but notice the constant trash talking and antics … like this one. He decided to join the defensive backs in the much-talked about tennis ball drills. Any surprise he nailed it?
There was also the interception he could have returned for a touchdown yesterday, and in typical Suggs fashion, he threw the ball into the crowd.
But the most important thing about Suggs' return might be summed up by Hensley.
"It's not coincidental that the defense has outplayed the offense the last two days with the return of Suggs," he wrote. "In addition to his playmaking ability, Suggs has a way of elevating the play of those around him."
Tavon Young Returns From Injury
The Ravens continue to get positive news on the injury front.
Rookie cornerback Tavon Young returned to practice after missing a few days with a hamstring injury. Young could have an impact on the defense in his first year as he showed before his injury that the game is not too big for him.
In the CSNMidAtlantic.com video below, Young talks about "living the dream" by playing for the team he grew up watching.
Ravens To Honor Michael Phelps … And He'll Likely Get A (Non-Gold) Statue
Baltimore is still trying to figure out exactly how to honor the most-decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps.
Per The Baltimore Sun, city officials have made no plans for a celebration, but spokesman Anthony McCarthy didn't write off the possibility of having one at some point.
Ravens Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne told The Sun the team will honor Phelps at an upcoming regular-season game.
What about a statue?
"[Y]ou have to believe that it won't be long before Michael Phelps is immortalized in – and you might want to sit down for this – bronze," wrote The Sun's Peter Schmuck. "Bronze? Really?"
Phelps is best known for 23 gold medals. Not his two bronze medals. But they can't really make a statue out of gold, right?
"The statues of Johnny Unitas and Ray Lewis outside M&T Bank Stadium are bronze. So is the Brooks statue across the street from Oriole Park and the statues of all the Orioles legends that were unveiled behind center field in 2012. So, it will probably be bronze, but the Brooks statue on the plaza between Russell Street and Washington Boulevard has a gold glove, so who knows?
"The other question is where to put it. Since there is no major swimming venue downtown, there is not an obvious location. There has been talk over the past decade or so of creating some type of walk of fame between Oriole Park and M&T Bank Stadium, but with all the other statues arrayed around the Camden Yards complex, that seems unlikely."