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Late for Work 9/6: Clashing Predictions on How Ravens Will Fare in 2018


Clashing Predictions on How Ravens Will Fare in 2018

Who else is fired up that the NFL regular season starts tonight?

The Ravens aren't playing until Sunday, but the Atlanta Falcons visiting the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles tonight marks the beginning of the 2018 regular season.

With the regular season getting underway, we compiled predictions about the Ravens' 2018 chances by analysts.

There was a wide range of guesses on how the Ravens would do this year. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio has the Ravens reaching the Super Bowl, while a few pundits have the team finishing as poorly as 6-10.

The predictions have been divided into three different sections – one that focuses specifically on the Ravens, one for AFC North final standings, and one for the playoffs.

Ravens Predictions

Pundit: Jason La Canfora, **CBS Sports**Record: 9-7"The Ravens could get a wild card at 9-7 in a watered-down AFC. The games with the Cincinnati Bengals could be especially crucial."

Pundit: Robert Mays, **The Ringer**Record: Not listed (ranked Ravens No. 21 in NFL power rankings)

Best-Case Scenario: "Collins averaged 4.6 yards per carry for the Ravens behind a piecemeal offensive line that played almost the whole season without the league's best guard, Marshal Yanda. Both Collins and Yanda are healthy this season, meaning the Ravens should have a potent ground game immediately."

Worst-Case Scenario: "An underrated loss this offseason was that of defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who quietly spent six years overseeing quality defenses before retiring and unretiring to join the staff in Tennessee. Former linebackers coach Don Martindale will get the first crack at the job with Pees gone, and there's no guarantee that the transition will be smooth."

*Pundit: ESPN *Record: 9-7"This team seems like it will finish 9-7. With a healthy Flacco and stronger supporting cast, the Ravens will dominate at home and pull off a couple of upsets on the road to stay in the postseason hunt."

Pundit: Pete Gilbert, **WBAL**Record: 11-5"The Ravens go 11-5, are AFC North champs and reach the AFC title game. John Brown breaks out with a career year."

Pundit: Ken Zalis, **PressBox**Record: 6-10"Then there is the schedule – it is brutal compared to the cupcake trip they had last year. I think the Ravens will be a better, more entertaining team but wind up with a worse record than in 2018 at 6-10."

Pundit: Brent Harris, **105.7 The Fan**Record: 10-6"The Ravens will win 10 games and make the postseason, advancing to the second round as a Wild Card. The Ravens' breakout star will be wide receiver John Brown."

Pundit: Tony Lombardi, **Russell Street Report**Record: 10-6"I'm going with a 10-6 season for the Ravens. Ten-win teams don't typically play home games in the playoffs, but the Ravens have never been bashful on the road in the postseason. The Ravens will get a win and then they'll be sent home in the divisional round."

Pundit: Matt Verderame, **Fansided**Record: 9-7, AFC North Champions"Baltimore has some clear offensive issues, but the schedule is palatable and the defense is nasty. The Ravens have been impossibly close to the playoffs each of the past two seasons only to miss at the end, and this year, fortunes smile on them in December."

Pundit: Glenn Clark, ****Record: 9-7"The Ravens will win nine games this year. I think they're actually better than they were a year ago, but I don't think they can be as fortunate to avoid facing as many starting quarterbacks as they did a season ago."

Pundit: Logan Levy, **Baltimore Beatdown**Record: 8-8

AFC North Predictions

1-    Pittsburgh
2-    Baltimore
3-    Cleveland
4-    Cincinnati

"A marginally improved pass rush, better receivers and, yes, a better Flacco -- combined with a relatively-weak AFC -- should give the Ravens all the space they need to nab a wild-card spot," Judy Battista wrote.

Pundit: Jason La Canfora, **CBS Sports**

1-    Pittsburgh
2-    Baltimore
3-    Cincinnati
4-    Cleveland

"I have the Bengals and Ravens both at 9-7, with it coming down to a tiebreaker as to who gets through. Baltimore travels to Cincy on a Thursday in Week 2 – that could tell the tale. Whichever team stays healthiest along the offensive line will probably prevail. I'm giving the Ravens the nod because of a superior head coach."

Pundit: Don Banks, ****

1.    Baltimore
2.    Pittsburgh
3.    Cleveland
4.    Cincinnati

"I'm banking on a significant bounce-back season from Joe Flacco, and the Ravens' organization-wide sense of urgency to propel them to their first playoff berth since 2014"

Pundit: Will Brinson, **CBS Sports**

1.    Baltimore (11-5)
2.    Cincinnati (9-7)
3.    Pittsburgh (8-8)
4.    Cleveland (4-12)

"I've covered extensively my belief that the Ravens will be a better team this year – Joe Flacco is motivated and has his best group of pass catchers in a long time (all due respect to ageless wonders Steve Smith, Sr. and Mike Wallace). The defense will miss Jimmy Smith early but the schedule is manageable and they're deep at cornerback."

Pundit: Dalton Del Don, **Yahoo Sports**

1.    Pittsburgh (10-6)
2.    Cleveland (6-10)
3.    Baltimore (6-10)
4.    Cincinnati (6-10)

"Joe Flacco loses his job to Lamar Jackson, who makes a fantasy impact down the stretch thanks to his legs."

Pundit: Neil Greenberg, **Washington Post**

1.    Pittsburgh (10-6)
2.    Cincinnati (8-8)
3.    Baltimore (8-8)
4.    Cleveland (4-12)

Pundit: Bill Bender, **Sporting News**

1.    Pittsburgh (11-5)
2.    Baltimore (7-9)
3.    Cleveland (6-10)
4.    Cincinnati (4-12)

"The make-up of the division might be changing, but we'll get the same result at the top for the third straight season."

Pundit: John Breech, **CBS Sports**

1.    Pittsburgh (11-5)
2.    Cincinnati (10-6)
3.    Baltimore (8-8)
4.    Cleveland (3-13)

"AFC North Bold Prediction: Ben Roethlisberger wins NFL MVP."

Pundit: Andy Benoit, **Sports Illustrated**

1.    Pittsburgh (11-5)
2.    Baltimore (7-9)
3.    Cleveland (4-12)
4.    Cincinnati (4-12)

"All five first-round rookie QBs – Baker Mayfield (Browns), Sam Darnold (Jets), Josh Allen (Bills), Josh Rosen (Cardinals) and Lamar Jackson (Ravens) – will take over before the season ends."

Playoff Predictions

Pundit: Mike Florio, **Pro Football Talk**

1. New England 2. Baltimore 3. Houston 4. Kansas City 5. Pittsburgh 6. Jacksonville

Wild card: Houston over Jacksonville, Pittsburgh over Kansas City
Divisional round: New England over Pittsburgh, Baltimore over Houston
Conference championship: Baltimore over New England
Super Bowl: Green Bay over Baltimore

Pundit: Andy Benoit, **Sports Illustrated**

1. New England 2. Pittsburgh 3. Los Angeles 4. Jacksonville 5. Houston 6. New York
Wild Card: Los Angeles over New York; Jacksonville over Houston
Divisional: New England over Jacksonville; Pittsburgh over Los Angeles
AFC Championship: Pittsburgh over New England

Pundits: Nate Burleson, Peter Schrager, Kyle Brandt, and Kay Adams, Good Morning Football

NFL Network's Good Morning Football crew predicted their playoff teams for the 2018 season, but they did not reveal how they think the postseason will play out.

Burleson: 1. Pittsburgh 2. Jacksonville 3. Los Angeles 4. New England 5. Houston 6. Baltimore

Schrager: 1. New England 2. Baltimore 3. Kansas City 4. Jacksonville 5. Pittsburgh 6. Miami

Brandt: 1. New England 2. Denver 3. Baltimore 4. Indianapolis 5. Jacksonville 6. Oakland

Adams: 1. Pittsburgh 2. Jacksonville 3. Los Angeles 4. New England 5. Houston 6. Denver

Pundit: Josh Alper, **Pro Football Talk**

1. New England 2. Los Angeles 3. Pittsburgh 4. Houston 5. Baltimore 6. Kansas City

Wild Card: Baltimore over Houston; Kansas City over Pittsburgh
Divisional: New England over Kansas City; Los Angeles over Baltimore
AFC Championship: New England over Los Angeles

Pundit: Will Brinson, **CBS Sports**

1. Kansas City 2. New England 3. Baltimore 4. Tennessee 5. Los Angeles 6. Cincinnati

Wild Card: Baltimore, 16-10, over Cincinnati; Los Angeles, 24-21, over Tennessee
Divisional: Los Angeles, 23-20, over New England; Kansas City, 24-17, over Baltimore
AFC Championship: Kansas City 38-31 over Los Angeles

Ravens' Revamped Passing Attack Faces Stern Week 1 Test

After retooling the majority of its receiving core throughout the offseason, a lot of attention will be on Baltimore's passing attack in Week 1.

The Ravens hardly used their trio of new wide receivers – Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV – during the preseason. Sunday's matchup with the Buffalo Bills will be the first time the group gets an extended look in a game.

It won't be an easy debut for the passing game, though. Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott is notorious for having stout passing defenses, and this year's group is expected to be no different.

Opponents averaged a quarterback rating of 78.9 against the Bills in 2017, the sixth-lowest mark in the NFL. The Bills also gave up a meager 14 passing touchdowns, which was the second-best mark in the league.

"They enjoyed that type of success without blitzing much," PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "McDermott runs a 4-3 scheme and used extra rushers as rarely as any coach in the league last year, which allowed Buffalo to drop seven in coverage."

In fact, Buffalo's 18 interceptions ranked No. 6 in the NFL, while its defense managed just 27 sacks, the 29th most.

The Bills' defensive strategy could create problems for Baltimore's passing game, especially when it comes to throwing deep. Therefore, the Ravens may have to focus on getting the ball into their playmakers' hands quickly.

"A top-notch safety tandem and rising star cornerback Tre'Davious White run McDermott's system well," Kasinitz wrote. "So Flacco said he'll have to connect on some underneath throws and hope the Ravens' receivers can produce big plays by running after the catch."

It's the type of test that could provide some early adversity for Baltimore's new acquisitions in the passing game.

"McDermott's defense, one that stymies opposing offenses by denying them big plays down the field, can leave teams frustrated and be more effective than it might seem at first glance," Kasinitz wrote.

Ravens 'Ceiling Setters' for 2018 Season

Russell Street Report’s Carey Stevenson named a few Ravens he sees as "ceiling setters" for the upcoming 2018 season.

"Ceiling setters are the wild-card players on an NFL roster that could drastically swing the range of outcomes," Stevenson wrote. "Each player listed below could change how the Ravens perform over the course of the season. These players will also force opponents to develop specific game plans for them."

CB Marlon Humphrey: With cornerback Jimmy Smith missing the first four games of the regular season via suspension, Stevenson sees Humphrey becoming a crucial figure in Baltimore's defense covering opponents' top receivers. It isn't a bad position for the defense to be in – Humphrey was sensational during his rookie campaign in 2017, and looks more than capable of taking on a bigger role this year.

"Humphrey has the speed, athleticism and length to be able to follow a variety of opponents," Stevenson wrote. "Such a strategy would give this defense added flexibility. If Humphrey is indeed ready to take another step in year two, the trio of Humphrey, Smith and Tavon Young is as good as there is in the NFL."

WR Willie Snead IV: The lone player who plays on offense that gets highlighted, Stevenson believes Snead will be crucial as the Ravens are relying on two rookies – Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews – to be their primary pass-catching tight ends. Rookies tight ends notoriously struggle because of the focus on both pass-catching and blocking the position requires. Snead will be able to help carry the load in the passing game.

"The Ravens have long coveted a sure handed, reliable chain mover in the slot, all attributes that fit Snead before a suspension and hamstring injury ruined his 2017 season," Stevenson wrote. "His 2018 resurgence could make 3rd and 7 actually fun."

DE Brent Urban: Staying healthy will be key for Urban, which is something he's struggled with since getting drafted in 2014. Urban has only had one season in which he's been able to get through without missing multiple games, with his most recent being cut short in Week 3 by a Lisfranc foot injury in 2017. He has been excellent when on the field though, and after a healthy preseason, Urban could be primed for a big campaign.

"He's a stout performer in the run game and is also a disruptive pocket collapsar, who can use his length to bat balls down at the line of scrimmage," Stevenson wrote.

To see the other Ravens that Stevenson highlighted, click here.

Quick Hits

  • The Ravens ranked No. 14 in Pro Football Focus’ Final Preseason ELO Power Rankings. "This defense is elite, posting the second-best EPA in passing defense in the NFL. When you can cover in the NFL, you are always capable of winning games."
  • The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote about rookie tight end Mark Andrews' role in the Type 1 diabetic community, and how from as early as high school, he hoped to inspire others who had the same medical condition as him. "From Scottsdale, Ariz., to the University of Oklahoma to Baltimore, he has preached the same message to children once like him: Diabetes doesn't define you. It's only a part of you. Don't let it deter you from your dreams."
  • The Ringer’s Danny Kelly focused on which teams have the toughest and easiest schedules through the first four weeks of the season. Baltimore's opening day opponent, the Buffalo Bills, got named among the "toughest" group. "Buffalo opens with three out of four games on the road—and their first three are coming against elite defenses."

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