Mink: When the team was in England, I went out to a small townie pub with Garrett and a few other co-workers. In a back room, there was a woman doing tarot card readings. Like you, I was tempted to peer into the future of the Ravens' 2023 season. Alas, I resisted.
Back then, the picture may not have been too rosy. The Ravens were coming off a frustrating loss in Pittsburgh, they still had numerous injured players, and they were amid an exhausting travel stretch.
After three straight wins, the picture is looking much better. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, the Ravens have a 92.8% chance of making the playoffs, the seventh-best mark in the NFL. They're tied for the best record in the AFC at 6-2 with a 71.8% chance of winning the division and 10.1% chance of winning the Super Bowl.
Stat projections aside, the Ravens offense is getting progressively better, and the team is getting healthier. Yes, Baltimore's offense stubbed its toe a bit in Arizona, but the Ravens have averaged 31 points over their past three games. The Ravens could also get back Tyus Bowser, David Ojabo, and others in coming weeks from injuries. Rashod Bateman is starting to heat up. The offensive line is gelling. The Ravens play six of their final nine regular-season games at home. I like the direction of this team.
The occasional cloud in the crystal ball comes from the Ravens' remaining strength of schedule, which is the toughest of its AFC North foes and third toughest in the league. There isn't a soft spot the rest of the way. Baltimore faded down the stretch the past two years but a major reason for that was because Lamar Jackson was injured. As long as Jackson stays healthy, I don't envision that happening again. In 2020, the Ravens won their final five regular-season games. In 2019, they ripped off 12 straight victories. In 2018, Jackson led them to six wins in their final seven.
The Ravens are still getting better in my opinion, and that's what matters most as they head into this tough second half of the 2023 schedule.
Downing: Starting that Go Fund Me is probably a good idea because the Ravens have premiere players poised to hit the market. With Justin Madubuike, Patrick Queen and Geno Stone, the reality is that it's going to be difficult to sign all three of them to long-term contracts. There's a chance that all of them could end up playing on new teams next season. According to Spotrac, the Ravens are projected to have about $13 million in cap room next season. That doesn't leave much space. Of course, that number can change based on other moves that that the Ravens make like trades or cuts, but the truth is that they will again be tight against the salary cap next season. That's what happens when a franchise quarterback is signed long-term and making more than $50 million a year, and the Ravens have factored that into their long-term planning.
The Ravens could opt to use the franchise tag on Madubuike, who is having a breakout season and is on pace to put up 13 sacks this season. That's a big number for an interior defensive lineman, and he could earn a contract in the neighborhood of $15-20 million annually. The franchise tag would come at an estimated price tag of $20 million, so fitting that under the salary cap would take some maneuvering for the Ravens.
The franchise tag would also be an expensive option for Queen at a projected $17.4 million next year, so the Ravens would likely seek to work out a long-term extension to keep him in Baltimore. With the way he's played this year, he may get a deal close to the five-year, $100 million contract the Ravens gave to Roquan Smith.
Predicting Geno Stone's contract value is difficult considering that he's been in-and-out of the starting lineup, but now leads the NFL with five interceptions. His price keeps going up with every one of those takeaways.
My prediction right now is that the Ravens find a way to keep one of those pending free agents in Baltimore, but it's tough to tell who that will be.
Mink: The Ravens have hit some screens this season, but you're right that they didn't work out or look good Sunday in Arizona. A closer inspection, however, shows that the Ravens were really close to breaking one with Zay Flowers. If Ronnie Stanley gets out there a little faster to get more of a block on the safety, Flowers is gone.
I do think the Ravens' personnel should lend themselves to successful screens. Flowers is dynamic with the ball in his hands. Justice Hill is also quite shifty and explosive on running back screens. The Ravens have a couple of mobile tackles in Stanley and Morgan Moses. It also requires strong blocking from the other receivers, typically Odell Beckham Jr. and Bateman.
Downing: The offense didn't have its best passing day against the Cardinals, and there are a variety of reasons for that. Arizona's gameplan was to drop most of their defenders in coverage to cloud the secondary and create tighter throwing windows. The Ravens came out throwing early in the game trying to push the ball downfield, but they switched that approach in the second half and leaned on the power running game with Gus Edwards.
In terms of Jackson holding the football, he's actually getting rid of the ball faster than any point in his career. Per Next Gen Stats, he's averaging a career low in time to throw at 2.79 seconds, which ranks 17th in the league. In previous seasons, Jackson was holding the football longer than almost every quarterback in the league – 2.92 seconds in 2019 (29th), 2.99 seconds in 2020 (33rd), 3.00 seconds in 2022 (31st). A clear strategy in Todd Monken's offense has been to get rid of the ball quickly, and Jackson has done a good job of that this season. The Cardinals did a good job of taking that away Sunday, but that is still very much a priority for this offense.