AFC North Preview, Including Position Rankings and Predictions
We've heard it over and over again this preseason.
The Ravens' formula for winning will be a suffocating defense, a top-ranked special teams unit led by kicker Justin Tucker's big leg and an offense that commits few mistakes.
"There may come a time this season when the Baltimore Ravens take advantage of their speedy receivers, bullish running back Terrance West, and the guile of 10-year veteran quarterback Joe Flacco," wrote the Associated Press' David Ginsburg.
"Until then, the Ravens will rely upon what has long been their most formidable weapon: a fierce, unrelenting defense. With Flacco nursing a bad back and operating behind a thin line, Baltimore will use a tried-and-true formula in its bid to return to the playoffs after two straight misses. … Mostly, though, Flacco needs to protect the ball [in the season opener]. If that means setting up field goals for two-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker, well, so be it."
The biggest challenge to the Ravens' formula is that Baltimore may not even have the best defense in the division. According to the NFL's "Move the Sticks" podcast, that honor belongs to the Cincinnati Bengals. Then, Baltimore is tied with Pittsburgh for the second spot.
That's not a knock on Baltimore's unit. It's just a testament to how stout the entire AFC North is expected to be.
Bucky Brooks and former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah ranked the AFC North's positions groupings, and the Ravens almost always fell* *in the bottom half. The only times the Ravens bucked that trend was in the secondary, which topped the list, and the coaching staff, which came in second.
Quarterback:1) Ben Roethlisberger 2) Andy Dalton 3) Joe Flacco 4) DeShone Kizer
Skill positions (RBs, WRs, TEs): 1) Steelers 2) Bengals 3) Browns 4) Ravens
Offensive line: 1) Steelers 2) Browns 3) Ravens 4) Bengals
Defensive front seven: 1) Bengals 2) Steelers 3) Browns 4) Ravens
Secondary: 1) Ravens 2) Bengals 3) Steelers 4) Browns
Coaching staff: 1) Steelers 2) Ravens 3) Bengals 4) Browns
Offensive rankings:1) Steelers 2) Bengals 3) Browns 4) Ravens
Defensive rankings: 1) Bengals 2T) Ravens 2T) Steelers 4) Browns
Overall rankings: 1) Steelers 2) Bengals 3) Ravens 4) Browns
Probably the most shocking ranking of all is the Ravens' front seven being listed at No. 4. Brandon Williams, Terrell Suggs and company will disagree.
"I'm going to hear it from my friends in Baltimore that I have them fourth here, but it's still a very good front seven," Jeremiah said.
So, how will all of this translate to the field?
Well, NFL.com's Elliot Harrison came up with a floor and ceiling for each division rival in the win/loss column. You can read the write-up for each here, but here's the summary for all four teams and more detail for Baltimore:
Cleveland Browns:Ceiling = 7-9; Floor = 2-14
Cincinnati Bengals:Ceiling = 11-5; Floor = 5-11
Pittsburgh Steelers:Ceiling: 13-3; Floor = 8-8
Ceiling: 11-5. "Joe Flacco stays healthy for the entire 2017 schedule, relegating Ryan Mallett to the role of emergency fill-in. Danny Woodhead catches 80 passes, compensating for what is still a questionable tight end spot. The defense continues the 2000-esque mojo it seemed to show off the other night, when the first-stringers allowed Nathan Peterman and the Bills 11 net yards over Peterman's first four drives."
Floor: 5-11. "The lack of work Flacco -- who has been out due to a disc issue in his back -- has had with players like receiver Breshad Perriman shows up. If Flacco's back flares and Mallett plays more than a game or two, a losing season is very possible. Terrance West and Co. fail to improve one iota from last year's 28th-ranked rushing offense. The defense should be too good for this five-win scenario, but the pass rush is still not guaranteed.
Tipping point: "If Benjamin Watson (coming off a torn Achilles tendon) and Maxx Williams (returning from knee surgery) can be a productive TE-by-committee, they could mitigate other deficiencies on offense."
Ravens Sign Second Running Back to Practice Squad and He Has Some Experience
The Ravens reportedly added a second running back to their squad in as many days.
Langford was cut by the Chicago Bears after they were awarded a waiver claim on former Ravens undrafted rookie Taquan Mizzell. The reported addition comes after the Ravens added former Seattle Seahawks back Alex Collins on Sunday.
"Baltimore has become a popular destination for running backs because the Ravens lack proven runners on their 53-man roster," says ESPN's web site. "Terrance West and Buck Allen have never produced more than 800 yards in a season, and Danny Woodhead is more of a pass-catcher out of the backfield."
Langford, 25, has some experience under his belt. After being selected by the Bears in the 2014 NFL Draft, he notched 537 yards rushing yards and six touchdowns as the backup. He even started the first three games last year until he re-injured a surgically repaired ankle. By the time he returned in Week 8, Langford lost the starting role to Jordan Howard.
The Ravens have only officially announced six of their 10 practice squad signings, leaving four open spots. And of those four, three have been reportedly filled by Langford, Collins and center Matt Skura.
Former Ravens Who Were Cut Over the Weekend
The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec compiled a list of ex-Ravens that were cut when NFL teams went from 90 to 53 players on the roster. You can see the full list here, but below are some notables:
Buffalo Bills: WR Jeremy Butler, QB Keith Wenning
Carolina Panthers: *OL Blaine Clausell
Chicago Bears: DT Kapron Lewis-Moore
Cleveland Browns: *RB Terrence Magee
Denver Broncos: WR Marlon Brown
Kansas City Chiefs: OL Jah Reid
New York Giants: QB Josh Johnson
Pittsburgh Steelers: *RB Fitzgerald Toussaint
San Francisco 49ers: * WR DeAndre Carter, CB Will Davis, *CB Asa Jackson, WR Tim Patrick
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Marqueston Huff
*Re-signed to the practice squad
- Justin Tucker was the only Raven to make ESPN's Preseason All-Pro Team. "Tucker converted all 24 of his attempts from 40-plus yards last season and didn't miss an extra point. He's money in the bank," writes Field Yates. [ESPN]