Analysts: AFC North Runs Through Cleveland (Or Pittsburgh)
At this point, there may not be any space left on the Ravens' bulletin board.
The narrative among prognosticators this offseason is that the defending AFC North champion Ravens are the third wheel in the race for the division title behind the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now there's this headline on NFL.com: “AFC North runs through Cleveland!” The Browns received the most votes from a panel of 29 analysts who were asked to choose the winners in each division.
However, even though there's an exclamation point in the headline, the Browns were not overwhelming favorites. Cleveland received 13 votes, while 12 voters went with the Steelers. Only four voters believe Baltimore will win the division. The four believers are Brian Baldinger, Marcas Grant, Dan Parr and Marc Sessler.
"There is so much talent on [Browns General Manager] John Dorsey's roster, and expectations are cresting among long-downtrodden Dawg Pounders," David Carr wrote. "I anticipate this gifted group will handle it well and get back to the top of the division for the first time in 30 years."
The panel didn't see the Ravens grabbing a wild-card spot either. They finished fourth (behind the Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs and Browns) for the first wild card and tied for third (with the Steelers behind the Chargers and Browns) for the second wild card.
In another article on NFL.com, analyst Jeffri Chadiha predicted the Steelers will win the AFC North.
"[Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens] still must prove he can handle all those big personalities," Chadiha wrote. "That's why the smart money in this division remains on the Steelers.
"Head Coach Mike Tomlin has dealt with plenty of drama over the last 12 months. Now he gets to coach a team that is still good enough to contend, even after parting with a couple of those highly talented sources of drama. … In other words, take the Steelers for the division title and the Browns for a wild-card spot."
Chadiha didn't forget about the Ravens – he just doesn't think they're as good as the Browns and Steelers.
"I haven't even mentioned the reigning AFC North champion Ravens," Chadiha wrote. "They have a lot to like, too, starting with second-year QB Lamar Jackson, but I foresee the team's losses on defense (Terrell Suggs, Za'Darius Smith and C.J. Mosley among them) keeping Baltimore from repeating."
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit also predicted that two teams from the AFC North will make the playoffs, neither of which is the Ravens. He had the Browns (11-5) winning the division and the Steelers (10-6) placing as a wild card. Benoit forecasted the Ravens to go 7-9 and finish third.
While the lack of respect shown to the Ravens might tick off some of the fan base, it probably delights Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh.
"Tell everybody how bad we are," Harbaugh told the media after a practice in June. "That's what I'm rooting for. It helps us."
Ravens' Coaches, Front Office Among NFL's Best
The Ravens may not have gotten a lot of love from the preseason pundits, but their coaching staff and front office were recognized for their achievements and acumen by ESPN analysts.
Harbaugh, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale and the Ravens front office all were ranked in the top 10 in their respective categories.
Harbaugh was ranked ninth among head coaches, which is too low considering his 104 victories are the sixth-most among active head coaches. He also owns a Super Bowl ring, something three head coaches placed above him do not have.
Roman and Martindale placed sixth and second, respectively. On a side note, former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, who now holds that position with the Tennessee Titans, was ninth.
"A longtime NFL assistant, Roman maximized the skill sets of Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor, leading both to their career-best seasons," Mike Clay wrote. "He will look to do the same with Lamar Jackson in 2019."
Mina Kimes wrote: "Martindale, who took over Baltimore's defense last year, has devised an incredibly creative scheme to counter the passing explosion in the NFL, relying heavily on pre-snap communication and deception."
The Ravens front office was No. 5. General Manager Eric DeCosta, in his first season in the position after longtime GM Ozzie Newsome stepped down, has received praise this offseason for landing big-name free agents Earl Thomas III and Mark Ingram II and drafting skill position players such as Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Miles Boykin and Justice Hill, who all are expected to make an impact.
"The Ravens have long mastered the compensatory pick game, and now they are building a team that embraces the strengths of an unorthodox quarterback that was acquired relatively cheaply in Lamar Jackson," Seth Walder wrote.
What Does Jermaine Eluemunor Trade Mean for Ravens?
Eluemunor, one of several players competing for the starting left guard spot, took first-team reps during training camp and started at left guard during the Ravens' first two preseason games.
"There is no getting around the fact that this is a shocking trade," Schisler wrote. "It's the evening before the Ravens' final preseason game and they traded a potential starter for the offensive line. The left guard position was thought of as the thinnest spot on the roster when training camp started. All of the sudden, the Ravens found Eluemunor expendable. ... This is a move that nobody in the world would have predicted."
With Eluemunor no longer in the mix, veteran James Hurst, rookies Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari, and Bradley Bozeman remain as possibilities to be the Week 1 starter. Schisler believes that by trading Eluemunor, who was a fifth-round pick in 2017, the Ravens "may have just prevented themselves from a big mistake."
"Parting with offensive linemen when the offensive line is already an area of doubt is a bold move. The Ravens may have done it because it was the right thing to do.
"Only time will tell if the Ravens offensive line will be bettered by subtraction. What is obvious is that Eluemunor was never going to be a Ben Grubbs or a Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens drafted Eluemunor as a project. … The project is now Bill Belichick's to complete."
Harbaugh said earlier this week that the competition for the starting left guard job will "remain a competition until somebody establishes themselves as the established starter."
"With Thursday night's preseason game against the Washington Redskins, the Ravens have one last chance to evaluate a positional battle that's seemingly no closer to resolution than it was a month ago," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "If they're not satisfied, team officials could also trade for another interior lineman before Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline for 53-man-roster cuts, or they could pick up one on the waiver wire thereafter."
- Three Ravens were named in SI.com's 100 influential figures who shaped pro football.
- Thomas finished second, behind New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell, in preseason voting for Comeback Player of the Year by NFL.com analysts. Jackson received one vote for NFL MVP, and Harbaugh got a vote for Coach of the Year.
- The Ravens defense was selected third in a draft of the best defenses in the NFL heading into the 2019 season on “PFT Live."
- The Ravens' schedule was ranked as the 16th-toughest by ESPN’s Aaron Schatz.
- Boykin was named as a potential breakout star this season .