Late for Work 9/3: Sports Illustrated Writer Predicts Ravens Will Not Win AFC North 

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QB Lamar Jackson

Sports Illustrated Writer Predicts Ravens Will Not Win AFC North 

The Ravens are prohibitive favorites to win the AFC North and among the leading Super Bowl contenders, but not every pundit is on the purple bandwagon, at least not as far as the division is concerned. 

Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr predicted every team's record, and he had the Pittsburgh Steelers going 13-3 and winning the AFC North, with the two-time defending division champion Ravens a game behind at 12-4, followed by the Cleveland Browns (9-7) and Cincinnati Bengals (2-14). 

"I liked the Steelers more than I thought I would, though this is assuming a fully healthy and energized Ben Roethlisberger for the duration of the 2020 season," Orr wrote. "Should the Steelers survive that early stretch of games between late September and mid-October (Houston, at Tennessee, Philadelphia), they'll be rolling into their first head-to-head matchup with the Ravens just before Halloween."

History is on Orr's side, as no team has won the AFC North three years in a row since NFL realignment in 2002. The Ravens surely don't mind the motivation. Head Coach John Harbaugh said he's seen or heard the predictions, including that the Ravens could go 16-0, but he keeps an ear our for predictions like this one from Sports Illustrated. 

"I've also seen where Pittsburgh is going to win the division," Harbaugh said last month. "I saw Cleveland has been picked by some people to win the division, as far as the changes they have made there. [I've seen] that Lamar [Jackson] is going to regress and our defense is going to regress. Everybody says a lot of things, so it doesn't matter. It's all noise."

However, in regard to the Ravens, history also says that winning the division isn't everything. Baltimore was a wild-card team in both of its Super Bowl-winning seasons. 

As the preseason predictions continue to roll in, NFL.com’s panel of analysts do believe the Ravens will three-peat in the AFC North. Baltimore received 28 votes to win the division, with the Steelers (six) and Browns (one) picking up the remaining votes. 

"The Ravens don't panic or flinch. They reload. They swing hammers," NFL.com's Marc Sessler wrote. "They topple the enemy with an offense that meshes old-school might and a player in Lamar Jackson who came to us from another star system. Barring an angry asteroid crashing into Baltimore, say hello to your AFC North champs." 

The Steelers were the overwhelming choice to be the AFC's top wild-card team. The seven analysts who didn't pick the Ravens to win the division all had Baltimore making the playoffs as a wild card, while 12 analysts voted the Browns to secure a playoff berth as a wild card.

Mark Ingram II Is NFL's Top Personality 

Not only was Mark Ingram II one of the main components in the Ravens' record-setting rushing attack last season, but the veteran running back also was the hype man for league MVP Jackson, introduced "Big Truss" into the football lexicon and was a sound-bite sensation. 

No one has more fun than Ingram, who was chosen as the No. 1 personality in the NFL by the “Good Morning Football” crew. 

"Is there anybody better than Mark Ingram? I don't think so," Nate Burleson said. "When he's mic'd up, he does great. After a game, he does great. When he's talking about himself. And he does even better when he's talking about other people. And when he comes on our show, he gives us everything that we want and more."

In addition to his energy and enthusiasm, Ingram also brings experience to an offense filled with talented, young players. After the Ravens drafted running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round, Ingram said he was eager to mentor the rookie, who will have a significant role in the offense this season. 

"Instead of just being selfish, I think you always need to take a younger player along and just be open, be transparent, teach them some of your successes, your failures and help bring them along so they can have great careers," Ingram told NFL Network's Rich Eisen. "It's all about passing the game down, passing the love down." 

No other Ravens made GMFB's list of the league's top eight personalities, but I'd have put Jackson on there somewhere. And if anybody's got an issue with that, go see Ingram.

What Are the Four Biggest Games for the Ravens This Season? 

With the Ravens' season-opener just 10 days away, Ebony Bird’s Ian Schultz ranked every game on their schedule, dividing them into four tiers. 

Here are the four games in his top tier: 

1. Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 

"The two teams with the best odds to win the Super Bowl in the AFC will likely be jockeying for the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye throughout the 2020 season, so YEAH, this match-up is pretty important. Do the Ravens need to prove to themselves that they can beat the Chiefs to better prepare them for a potential playoff clash? Sure, if those types of things matter to you. Which MVP quarterback has the better day? Will both team's fan bases dismiss the result if their team loses? Of course they will."

2. Ravens at Steelers in Week 12 (Thanksgiving night) 

"Is Big Ben still standing? Have the Steelers' skill position players, namely James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster returned to form? Are the Ravens an unstoppable force offensively as they were in 2019? Can the Steelers' elite defense bottle up the unstoppable force assuming it continues? Will the Ravens win in Pittsburgh for the third straight season for just the second time in team history?" 

3. Ravens vs. Browns in Week 1 

"It is always extremely important to get off on the right foot in the opener, especially against a division opponent. Story lines? Check. Marlon Humphrey vs. [Odell Beckham Jr.] after their tussle in Baltimore last year. The Ravens' revamped defensive front against arguably the NFL's best running back duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Third-year quarterbacks facing off with one coming off of an MVP season and the other coming off a season to forget." 

4. Ravens vs. Titans in Week 11 

"This one is all about the revenge factor. … The Titans and Ravens both return the [lion's] share of their starters, and this matchup figures to be must-see TV, revenge or otherwise."

Ravens Offense Is No. 2 in Pro Football Focus Rankings 

Even though the Ravens offense led the league in points, total yards, rushing yards and passing touchdowns last season, and added more weapons this year, the unit came in at No. 2 in Pro Football Focus’ rankings of all 32 offenses. 

Several factors were considered for the rankings, such as quarterback situation, PFF play-by-play grading, PFF WAR added and lost, the unit's play caller and per-play efficiency in 2019. The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs were ranked No. 1.

"Orchestrated by Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, who popularized the pistol formation in the NFL after learning it from Chris Ault at Nevada more than a decade ago, Baltimore's 2019 offense was one of the best we have ever seen in our time grading NFL games," PFF's Anthony Treash wrote. "There have been 448 team seasons since 2006, and the Ravens' 2019 offense ranked 14th in EPA per pass play and fifth in EPA per run play. Led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens were actually more efficient running the ball than 26 teams were passing it." 

"With the dual-threat Jackson, two great pass-catching weapons in [tight end Mark] Andrews and [wide receiver Marquise 'Hollywood'] Brown, a loaded backfield with Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins and a top-five offensive line, the Ravens' offense is once again set to be among the league's best."

As for the rest of the AFC North teams, the Browns, Bengals and Steelers were ranked 19th, 20th and 21st, respectively. 

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