Game-By-Game Predictions For Ravens 2016 Season
With the NFL season-opening kickoff scheduled tomorrow night in a Super Bowl 50 rematch, this marks the last day that all 32 NFL teams will have a 0-0 record.
The question in Baltimore is whether the Ravens have done enough to rebound from the worst season under Head Coach John Harbaugh and transition from a 5-11 team to a playoff contender again.
If you ask ESPN's Jamison Hensley, indeed, they have.
He sees the Ravens taking advantage of an early favorable schedule to notch a 10-6 record, propelling them back into the postseason where they belong.
"The last time the Ravens missed out on the playoffs in consecutive seasons was 2004-05, when their starting quarterback was Kyle Boller," Hensley wrote. "If you haven't gotten the point, Baltimore traditionally doesn't stay down for long."
Not everyone is drinking the purple Kool-Aid. For example, CBSSports.com's Will Brinson predicted the Ravens will finish dead last in the AFC North, even behind the Cleveland Browns. Ouch.
Hensley follows the Ravens closely, so let's take a look at his game-by-game predictions for the 2016 Ravens.
Week 1: WIN vs. Buffalo Bills (1-0)Too many Bills injuries and suspensions for quarterback Tyrod Taylor to overcome.
Week 2: WIN at Cleveland Browns (2-0)"No team has won more times in Cleveland since Harbaugh became Ravens coach in 2008. Last year, Baltimore won in Cleveland with Matt Schaub as its quarterback," wrote Hensley. "I'll say it again: Matt Schaub."
Week 3: WIN at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-0)Remember when the NFL admitted the referees robbed the Ravens of a win against Jacksonville last year? "Make no mistake, the Ravens want some measure of payback," Hensley wrote.
Week 4: LOSS vs. Oakland Raiders (3-1)Baltimore lost in Oakland last year, and Hensley sees the Raiders repeating because its roster is full of young up-and-coming talent, including quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper and linebacker Khalil Mack. It will be Kelechi Osemele's first game at M&T Bank Stadium as a Raider after turning down an offer to stay in Baltimore this offseason.
Week 5: WIN vs. Washington Redskins (4-1)"It's a short trip up the interstate for the Redskins, but it will be a long drive back," Hensley wrote.
Week 6: LOSS at New York Giants (4-2)The Giants receiver corps is loaded with Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. As much as the Ravens focused on improving the secondary by signing Eric Weddle, moving Lardarius Webb to safety, re-signing Shareece Wright and adding Secondary Coach Leslie Frazier, "Baltimore didn't do enough, especially at cornerback."
Week 7: WIN at New York Jets (5-2)We are nearing 20 years since the Jets have beaten the Ravens way back in 1997. Hensley sees the Ravens extending the streak to nine-straight wins.
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: WIN vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)This prediction is a result of two trends: 1) Baltimore has beaten Pittsburgh at home in four of the last five matchups, and 2) the Ravens have won 11 of their last 14 games coming off a bye. One of the biggest bright spots of last season's 5-11 finish was keeping that home streak alive and sweeping the Steelers, even when the Ravens were playing a MASH unit without starters Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, Terrell Suggs and more in the second matchup at home.
Week 10: WIN vs. Cleveland Browns (7-2)The Browns upset the Ravens at home last year in a 33-30 overtime matchup, and that was before the Ravens' injuries started to really pile up. Even though Cleveland hasn't had a winning season since 2007, it always seems to play Baltimore tight. That said, Hensley doesn't think the re-building Browns can pull off a win this year against the Ravens.Week 11: LOSS at Dallas Cowboys (7-3)"Unfortunately for the Ravens, Tony Romo could be back and that usually means a win for the Cowboys," Hensley wrote.
Week 12: WIN vs. Cincinnati Bengals (8-3)The Bengals have had the Ravens' number recently, winning six of the last seven contests, including the last two at M&T Bank Stadium. "They've never dropped three in a row," Hensley wrote. "The key here is cornerback Jimmy Smith stepping up to slow down A.J. Green, who has single-handedly beaten the Ravens. Smith will be up for the challenge."
Week 13: WIN vs. Miami Dolphins (9-3)Jimmy Johnson was the last Dolphins head coach to win in Baltimore. That was in 1997.
Week 14: LOSS at New England Patriots (9-4)This marks the beginning of a brutal four-game stretch, and Hensley sees the Ravens dropping three of them, which is why they'll need to bulk up on wins during the first half of the season. The Patriots have the best home record in the NFL since 2001.
Week 15: WIN vs. Philadelphia Eagles (10-4)"By this point, the Ravens are eyeing a playoff berth, and the Eagles are making their plans for the offseason," wrote Hensley.
Week 16: LOSS at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)If quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, he could be too tough to beat at home, even if the Ravens like playing at Heinz Field. As Hensley points out, Roethlisberger is 9-3 in Pittsburgh when the Ravens come to visit.
Week 17: LOSS at Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)Ugh. Another season finale in Cincinnati. "The NFL's schedule-makers have a cruel sense of humor, making the Ravens end another season in Cincinnati," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore has lost more games in Cincinnati than anywhere else in the eight-year John Harbaugh era."
Jeremy Butler 'Deserved' Roster Spot, But Ravens Needed A Returner
Cutdown day is full of difficult conversations for head coaches around the league.
Of the many Harbaugh had to have, the most difficult was with wide receiver Jeremy Butler, who led the team in the preseason with 16 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
"That was one of the toughest conversations – if not the toughest conversation – because in my mind, he deserved to make the team," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "He earned it based on the fact he made those plays."
Butler didn't just stand out in Baltimore. According to Pro Football Focus, the 2014 undrafted rookie was the best "slot receiver" in the NFL during the preseason. The website admits that Butler only notched 22 of 107 snaps in the slot, but noted that he caught 16 of 20 passes thrown his way and forced three missed tackles after the catch.
Harbaugh knows that Butler played well enough on offense to make the team. He also said that Butler played well on special teams and could have contributed there. But the problem was that Butler isn't a returner. As such, the Ravens gave prolific returner Devin Hester the sixth and final receiver spot.
"Circumstances just dealt him and us a tough situation because we needed a returner," Harbaugh said. "He's learned how to play special teams since he's been here. So [Special Teams Coordinator] Jerry [Rosburg] was all for him being on the team as a teamer.
"But we needed a returner. When you looked at who would have to go and stay, just for the team, he was a guy who there wasn't a chair left for in the end."
Butler signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad, but the Ravens could still sign him to their 53-man roster as long as he isn't added to any other team's active squad.
Tyrod Taylor Can Still Recite All 10 Quarterbacks Drafted Before Him
It took until the sixth round of the 2011 draft for a team to select Tyrod Taylor.
That team, of course, was the Baltimore Ravens, who already had a franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco. With Flacco's stellar record of not missing any games, it was unlikely that Taylor would ever get to start in Baltimore. And he never did.
After his contract expired in Baltimore, Taylor finally had his chance to prove he could be a starting NFL quarterback and he did just that with the Buffalo Bills last year. He posted the NFL's seventh-best quarterback rating (99.4) in 14 starts and cashed that performance in for a five-year, $92 million extension.
As Taylor returns to Baltimore in a starting role, he still uses that 2011 draft as motivation. He can recite all 10 quarterbacks drafted ahead of him, as can been seen in the ESPN video below with Trey Wingo.
Justin Forsett Returned, But Ravens Still Don't Have Clear No. 1 Back
Ravens starting running back Justin Forsett is back, giving Baltimore fans a big sigh of relief.
That said, it's still unclear who will be the lead dog of the backfield. There may not be one, as Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman could opt for the hot hand each week.
If one back does finally emerge to be the unquestioned No. 1, TheMMQB.com's Peter King thinks it will be rookie Kenneth Dixon, who will miss the first handful of games with a knee sprain.
"Watch for Kenneth Dixon in Baltimore," King wrote. "While the rookie fourth-round running back won't be a prime-time player early while he recovers from a knee injury, he could well be the regular back by the middle of October.
"Baltimore loves him. Lots of faith in rookies on the Baltimore offense, with Ronnie Stanley (first round, Notre Dame) starting at left tackle, and Alex Lewis (fourth round, Nebraska) starting at left guard. Dixon will make that three prominent rookies on offense. Add Breshad Perriman, who looked very good in the final preseason game—he's a big guy with separation ability—and that's a good infusion of talent for Joe Flacco."
- Harbaugh was a guest on the "Core Energy Academy" podcast with Barbara Depta to discuss how he balances his professional and personal life. Depta is an elite performance coach and used to work for the Ravens.