Is There More Pressure Than Ever on the Ravens to Win in 2017?
There's a buzzing sense of urgency at the Under Armour Performance Center.
That's par for the course when you're days away from the season-opening game, especially against a division rival like the Cincinnati Bengals.
But after missing the playoffs three out of the last four years, is there an even greater burden to win in 2017? The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec thinks so.
"Nobody from the organization has publicly labeled this a watershed season for the Ravens," he wrote. "Everybody at the team facility, though, seems to understand what's at stake whether they're saying it or not.
"The Ravens have been one of the most stable organizations in the NFL, and their brain trust, consisting of Owner Steve Bisciotti, President Dick Cass, General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta and [Head Coach John] Harbaugh, has long been one of the most respected. As another football season begins, there is more pressure on those men than perhaps ever before to steady an organization that has lost its winning touch."
Zrebiec points out that since lifting the Lombardi Trophy in 2012, the Ravens have gone 31-33 in the regular season and only returned to the postseason once. If Baltimore were to fall short of the playoffs again, it will be the first time in franchise history since the first three years of the team's existence (1996-1999) that the team missed the mark in three consecutive years.
The road to the Super Bowl usually runs through New England, where the Ravens have won before, but Zrebiec says that gap has "widened significantly."
Baltimore is used to a higher standard in part because Harbaugh created that standard by leading the team to the playoffs in six of his first seven years on the job. The Ravens' 95 wins since Harbaugh came to town are the best behind the Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite a rocky start to training camp and the preseason in which the Ravens lost 10 players who likely would have been on the 53-man roster, says Zrebiec, Harbaugh and the Ravens are resolute.
"Amid the tumult, players insisted it was business as usual as they readied for the season," Zrebiec wrote. "During his tenure, Harbaugh has done some of his best work steadying his team through adversity while not allowing outside distractions to seep in.
"… By all accounts, the relationship between all of the Ravens' top decision makers remains as strong as ever even as the pressure seemingly has ratcheted up."
To steer the organization back to its winning ways, it's going back to its roots. The Ravens have gone all-in with their defense, using their first four 2017 draft picks on that side of the ball, making Brandon Williams the highest-paid nose tackle, and bringing in free agents Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr.
"Predictably, the defense shined in the preseason while the Flacco-less offense struggled," wrote Zrebiec. "In this season of great importance, the Ravens can take some solace in knowing that formula has worked for them before."
Patrick Ricard's Jersey Number Change Indicates He'll Play A Lot of Fullback
Undrafted rookie Patrick Ricard changed his jersey number after making the 53-man roster.
He shed No. 91, a number typically reserved for a defensive lineman, and opted for No. 42. That means Ricard, who is expected to be a two-way player on offense and defense, will not have to report to officials when he enters the game as a fullback.
The change indicates that he'll see a decent amount of time there after the Ravens decided against keeping a traditional fullback when they cut Ricky Ortiz and Lorenzo Taliaferro. Ortiz was brought back on the practice squad.
In addition to being a practical matter, Ricard told The Baltimore Sun there was also a more personal reason for picking his new number.
"I had a couple options with the 40 numbers, and I picked 42 because I wore it in high school," Ricard told Edward Lee. "So that was a good omen. I played fullback in high school, too. So it's back to my roots, and it's a number I'm familiar with. I'm happy with it."
La Canfora: Expectations on Offense Should Be Restrained
If you ask any players on the Ravens offense, they'll say the recent run on injuries to their unit doesn't constitute as an excuse to lower expectations. Even if those injuries did hit key players, including quarterback Joe Flacco.
Marshal Yanda made that clear yesterday. The standard is the same no matter who is in the lineup.
That's the right mentality for anyone in the building. But for those outside the building, the expectations seem to be different. At least, that's the way CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora sees it.
"The Ravens, under a cloud of injuries, suspensions, retirements and just plain bad luck all around, took no chances, and essentially kept the former Super Bowl MVP in bubble wrap until September, knowing any chances of having a modicum of success moving the football started and ended with the $23 million-a-year quarterback," La Canfora wrote.
"It was a prudent business and football decision, though it did little to comfort the masses around here who have been frustrated with two straights years of tepid offense, of a complete lack of balance with the run game, and with the franchise's historical issues identifying and developing young receiving talent. With recent first-round pick Breshad Perriman, a constant injury concern, again more hurt than not in the preseason, with the loss of last year's top pass catcher Dennis Pitta to another devastating hip injury and with Flacco throwing nary a pass to late-offseason free agent signing Jeremy Maclin, it's safe to say expectations are restrained at best about how or when this unit comes together, at least outside the Ravens' practice facility."
Taking the Over or Under on Vegas' Season Projection?
For all you betting folks out there, ESPN's Mike Clay and Phil Steele offer their advice on whether to take the over or under on Vegas' betting line of the Ravens getting 8.5 regular season wins, and their odds of winning the division, conference and Super Bowl.
Super Bowl odds: 30-1 (opened 40-1)
Over/Under wins total: 8.5 (O 130/U -150)
ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) projection: 8.3
Steele: "Baltimore is 9-2 to win the division, which are pretty good odds, but I like the Steelers so no play for me. They are 20-1 to win the AFC and 40-1 to win the Super Bowl. Much like every AFC team, I think that getting past New England is the toughest obstacle, and 40-1 might be worth a look, especially with Harbaugh's 10-5 record in playoff games. … FPI leans toward the over, which is at 8.5. Once again my power ratings and CG Technology mirror the season, with each calling for Baltimore to open 6-7 and be favored in their last three, bringing them to nine wins. I have Baltimore and Cincinnati as 50/50, with one winning nine games and the other winning eight. For the sake of argument, I will actually lean with the under."
Clay: "The Ravens have a fairly light schedule, which makes a repeat of last year's 8-8 possible, but I'd argue that's the ceiling. This is a below-average team on paper and it's even worse following a barrage of offseason injuries."