Late For Work 9/3: Ravens Season Predictions

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Ravens Season Predictions

The AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs in 2011, and the Baltimore Ravens won the division with a 12-4 record.

Can they repeat as division champs? Will they reach the playoffs for the fifth-consecutive season?

With the preseason officially behind us, pundits from around the web provide their 2012 predictions:

ESPN's Jamison Hensley*             Division Finish: 3*            
There are major questions, from the loss of Terrell Suggs to an aging offensive line. The lineup of strong quarterbacks on the schedule only compounds the problem. You can't expect John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco to get to the playoffs every year.

*ESPN's John Clayton                       Division Finish: 2  *
Winning the division last year gives the Ravens a slightly tougher schedule. Flacco will have a better season with increased responsibility, but the Ravens have issues along the offensive line and with their pass rush.

*ESPN's Adam Schefter                   Division Finish: 2 *
Losing Suggs indefinitely just might translate into losing the lead in the AFC North.

*ESPN's Ashley Fox                           Division Finish: 1  *Flacco wants the Ravens' offense to be more aggressive and not rely so much on the defense. He will have his best season yet.

FoxSports.com's Brian Billick*    Division Finish: 1, 12-4 record*The Ravens find themselves in a situation similar to other recent seasons: poised to make another run for the playoffs and contend for a Super Bowl. But this season's blueprint will look a little different. In recent years, the Ravens' defense has employed arguably the best player at his position at all levels of the defense, but that may not be true this season. … On offense, the Ravens still have the ability to play smash-mouth football, but more and more, this offense will begin to run through the arm of Joe Flacco rather than the legs of Ray Rice.

NFL.com's Bucky Brooks:              Division Finish: 1, 12-4
The Ravens' no-huddle offense could vault Joe Flacco into the ranks of the elite, as he supplants Ray Rice as the driving force of the offense.

NFL.com's Adam Schein:              Division Finish: 1, 11-5
The Baltimore Ravens are a complete team. Ray Rice is a star. Joe Flacco proved something to critics, like me, with his performance in the AFC Title game last year. Even without Terrell Suggs for the bulk of the year, Baltimore's defense is great, anchored by star tackle Haloti Ngata.

NFL.com's Steve Wyche:              Division Finish: 1, 11-5
Joe Flacco continues to improve with a big-play offense made for his big arm. No T-Sizzle hurts for awhile, but there's enough D to cover his back.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah:       Division Finish: 2, 9-7
It sounds very weird to say it, but I'm actually a bit concerned about the Ravens' defense. Losing Terrell Suggs was a devastating blow to the pass rush. Joe Flacco has another year of valuable postseason experience under his belt, and the offense should be better.

SI.com's Don Banks*                        Division Finish: 2, 10-6*
When you win big in the NFL, what's your reward? The punitive step of receiving a first-place schedule the following year, and that can be a difficult hurdle to clear for any repeat-minded team. Baltimore finally got over the hump and beat Pittsburgh to claim the AFC North last season, but the Ravens' 12-4 finish earned them a tougher 2012 slate than the second-place Steelers, who also went 12-4. A step-back season should still be good enough to make the playoffs in Baltimore, but maybe by the more familiar wild-card route. Tough games against Houston, New England, the Giants, Denver, San Diego and Philadelphia dot the Ravens' schedule, and that's not even including the four challenges they face against division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

SI.com's Peter King*                         Division Finish: 1*

Really? No. 3?

Before we completely move on from the season predictions, let's take a closer look at the only person who believes the Ravens will finish the AFC North in third place and miss the playoffs for the first time in four years.

Hensley is well aware that Ravens fans won't like his prediction. And that's why he said he'll be parking five miles away from M&T Bank Stadium on gamedays.

He more fully explains his prediction, saying he doesn't like to go with the obvious choice each year.

"Making predictions is a fun part of the job," Hensley wrote. "Fans just have to remember that these are educated guesses, not guarantees. I also don't like to go with the obvious choice in a lot of cases (like taking the Packers or Patriots to win the Super Bowl) because the NFL is so unpredictable from week to week, much less from season to season. How many people had the Giants winning the Super Bowl before the 2011 season began?"

Hamilton Hungry For Quarterbacks

The Ravens' reported signing of outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton to the practice squad has created some buzz in Baltimore, especially with the YouTube video of his punishing hit on Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens this preseason.

Playing for the Cowboys, Hamilton separated the quarterback from the football and his helmet. The grimace on Clemens' face didn't go away even when he reached the sidelines.

The Ravens are in need of more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but Hamilton would have to work his way off the practice squad in order to help, which The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson sees as a possibility.

"Hamilton is an intriguing pass rusher," Wilson tweeted. "Could be developed into a defensive contributor."

The Prairie View A&M alum, who broke the Southwestern Athletic Conference single-season sack record with 20 ½ sacks last year, takes pride in getting after the quarterback.

"As a pass rusher, you have to be relentless," Hamilton told Wilson. "One move might not work, so you need to try another move. You have to consistently chase the ball.

"I bring a fire, I'm hungry to get to the quarterback. I want to help the team in any way possible, whatever it takes."

Despite a standout preseason, Hamilton believes he got cut by Dallas because of a numbers game. Ahead of Hamilton were DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Kyle Wilber, Alex Albright and Orie Lemon.

For more Hamilton footage, here's his college football highlight video.

No-Huddle 100 Percent Of The Time

Peter King sees 2012 as the year that Baltimore's offense becomes better than the defense.

And his reasoning centers around what Flacco recently told him: "[We're] looking at our offense as total no-huddle ... as 100 percent no-huddle."

Here are the advantages of the no-huddle, according to Flacco and King:

1)      Jim Caldwell has come from the laboratory of the no-huddle with Peyton Manning in Indy. Maybe that's why Flacco started to get Manning comparisons during the offseason.

2)      Opponents will have difficulty keeping up with the offensive pace and tempo.

3)      Baltimore has the personnel to run it effectively and stretch opposing defenses.

4)      The no-huddle will force the Steelers to keep their aging defensive starters (seven players over 30 years old) on the field. If they have the time, the Steelers (and Bengals) typically like massive defensive substitutions. The no-huddle keeps them on the field and tires them out.

5)      Defenses will be forced to simplify their schemes and "aren't going to be as imaginative in play-calls … They just want to survive."

"I think the no-huddle can add a couple of minutes to the game for us," Flacco told King. "I think we could get another possession per game out of it. The bottom line is, I'm happy we're doing it. Very happy.

"Defenses have gotten so complicated. When you slow it down and get into a huddle before every play, you're playing into their hands, allowing them to dictate the tempo of the game. This way, we take control of the game."

Ravens Offense Led NFL In Preseason

Perhaps the biggest advantage of Flacco running the no-huddle: more yards and more points.

Take these preseason rankings for what they're worth, but the Ravens hope it's an indication of what's to come.

The Ravens led the league and AFC in these preseason statistics:

Total offense: Ravens, 390.5 (NFL)
Points: Ravens, 108 (AFC)
Pass attempts: Ravens, 189 (AFC)
Passing yards per game: Ravens, 275.5 (AFC)
Points: Justin Tucker, Ravens, 29 (AFC)

Quick Hits

  • "Don't be surprised if the Ravens look for an upgrade on the offensive line," wrote Hensley. "Their depth at tackle is questionable with backups Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood. Reid has been limited all summer with a calf injury, and Harewood surprisingly made the team after spending the past two years on injured reserve."
  • Head Coach John Harbaugh expressed optimism Friday about injured tight ends Dennis Pitta (hand) and Ed Dickson (shoulder) playing in the season opener against Cincinnati. "We'll know a lot more Monday, Wednesday and especially Thursday when we pad up a little bit, but they seem to be ahead of schedule, both guys," Harbaugh said. [The Baltimore Sun]
  • "With Joe Flacco and Tyrod Taylor on the 53-man roster, [quarterback Dennis] Dixon provides insurance as the third quarterback," wrote Hensley. "He hasn't been on an NFL roster since the end of last season with Pittsburgh, which looks like a red flag. Dixon was reportedly considering an offer to join the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions last month."
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"The Ravens kept only Tyrod Taylor behind Joe Flacco and he didn't blow anyone's doors off with his play during the preseason. That suggests the chances that Dixon could wend his way to the 53-man roster in Baltimore at some point this year aren't so farfetched," wrote Josh Alpher. "Until that happens, Dixon will be making $5,700 a week on the practice squad.*That's not quite as good as being on a roster in the first place, but it seems a good bit better than playing your trade in the UFL." * "The Ravens were hoping to get big nose tackle Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, who was cut Friday, onto their practice squad, but the former Kent State standout was claimed by the Cleveland Browns." [The Baltimore Sun] * "Johnny Unitas, considered by many to have been the greatest quarterback of all time, will be inducted posthumously into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame with six others at the 53rd enshrinement ceremony Nov. 8 at Michael's 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie." [The Baltimore Sun] * @RavensInsider [Wilson]: Nigel Carr went unclaimed off waivers after being cut by the Ravens, per a league source. [Twitter] * @RavensInsider: Curtis *[Painter] went unclaimed off waivers, per a league source. [Twitter] * @brendon310: Had a very interesting encounter today. Kicked it with MJ = master Jedi  [Twitter]

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