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Late for Work: Pundits Believe Ravens Could Be in Last Place After First Five Games

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

Pundits Believe Ravens Could Be in Last Place After First Five Games

One of the first things we all do after the NFL schedule is released is go over our favorite team's schedule and predict the outcome of each game.

For Ravens fans, the exercise of assessing a "W" or "L" to the team's first five games is likely to cause some hand-wringing. The Ravens' schedule in Weeks 1-5 is the hardest in the league.

The daunting stretch — at Kansas City, vs. Las Vegas, at Dallas, vs. Buffalo, at Cincinnati — has some pundits taking a bleak outlook on where the Ravens will be at the end of it.

ESPN's Dan Graziano said it's not an overreaction to think the Ravens could be in last place in the AFC North heading into Week 6.

"Cincinnati has an easier start. I think Pittsburgh does, too," Graziano said on "Get Up." "When you look at the opponents, that Week 5 game at Cincinnati, if the Bengals were to win it, yeah, you could see a situation in which the Ravens would be at the bottom of the league's toughest division."

NBC Sports' Chris Simms said the turnover on the Ravens' roster, combined with the tough start to the schedule, is cause for concern.

"I know they're the Ravens. I know they're going to be good. But it's not exactly the same team we saw last year," Simms said on "Pro Football Talk." "And it's the Chiefs in Week 1, you could certainly be 0-1. The Raiders, chippy, we know that. The Cowboys, the Bills, the Bengals. You look at that and you go, hey, if the Ravens aren't playing their best football there, they could be sitting at 2-3 or 1-4 and digging themselves a hole. There's real danger in that early part of the schedule."

On the other hand, if the Ravens emerge from the early part of the schedule with a winning record, they could be in the driver's seat in the division.

There's no denying the five-game stretch looks challenging. However, there are reasons to believe the Ravens will be up to it.

For one, the Ravens have players and coaches who are battle-tested. Baltimore defeated six teams that made the playoffs last season, including convincing wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, the teams that would go on to meet in the NFC Championship Game.

Moreover, the Ravens have a long track record of success early in the season. They haven't had a losing record after five games since 2015 and have posted a winning record after five games in 14 of the past 15 seasons.

After Coming Close Last Year, Ravens Are Pundit's Pick to Win Super Bowl

Rather than focusing on the start of the season, NFL Network’s Patrick Claybon looked all the way ahead to the Super Bowl, and the Ravens were his pick to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

"Ultimately, for them not to be in the Super Bowl [last season], it took a sequence of circumstances [against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game]," Claybon said. "And I know people are going to think, 'Well, the Ravens could've run the ball more.' The Ravens had three drives late in the game; they got 160-plus yards and three points out of them. The punchout by L'Jarius Sneed [on Zay Flowers as he was about to cross the goal line] is the play that kept the Ravens … out of the Super Bowl last year – fractions of an inch."

The Ravens currently have the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl, trailing the 49ers and Chiefs.

Lamar Jackson Is No. 3 on List of QB MVP Candidates’s Nick Shook also looked ahead to the end of the season, as he ranked the top 10 quarterback candidates to win the league MVP award.

Lamar Jackson came in at No. 3.

"He's a two-time MVP and the leader of a team that is expected to be in the thick of the AFC race once again in 2024," Shook wrote. "He's also one of the most electrifying players in professional sports. Health is the only question, and he just completed a full season after failing to do so in the previous two – and won MVP. He'll have a lot of the same pieces around him this fall, but will also be joined in the backfield by two-time NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry. Like Patrick Mahomes, Jackson will always be in this conversation at this point in the year."

Mahomes and Joe Burrow were the two quarterbacks ranked ahead of Jackson.

Trenton Simpson Named Ravens' Breakout Candidate

Pro Football Focus’ Bradley Locker identified a breakout candidate for every AFC team. His choice for the Ravens was inside linebacker Trenton Simpson.

"The Ravens lost not only Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald but also standout linebacker Patrick Queen this offseason. The most likely to fill Queen's big shoes is Simpson, a third-round pick from a year ago," Locker wrote. "Simpson played only 49 snaps in 2023 but was effective, earning a 76.3 overall grade as well as a 77.4 coverage grade. If Baltimore wants to repeat its strong defensive efforts from 2023, Simpson will be tasked with stepping up."

Simpson made a strong impression in the 2023 season finale against the Steelers. In that game, he had seven tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, and one quarterback hit.

Ten Games That Could Define the Season Include Two Ravens Contests

Locker also named 10 games that could define the 2024 season. The Ravens are involved in two of them:

Ravens at Chiefs (Week 1)

"The very first time teams trot out of the locker room this entire season will immediately be one of the most significant contests of the whole year. The Ravens and Chiefs each face turnover at several notable positions but return the crux of their AFC Championship rosters from a year ago — most notably, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Even if it's only Week 1, this game has a strong chance of creating a playoff tiebreaker for a top-three seed in the AFC. Interestingly, this will be just the third matchup between the two AFC powerhouses since 2021, so savor it while you can."

Ravens at Texans (Week 17)

"It's easy to pity DeMeco Ryans' bunch for two straight games against two of the best teams in the AFC (Houston plays at Kansas City in Week 16), but this will also be tremendous theater. Lamar Jackson against C.J. Stroud provides a glimpse into two of the premier playmakers in the sport and a great chess match between the sage John Harbaugh and an up-and-comer in Ryans. Having this game — which might determine the AFC's No. 2 seed — on Christmas is as good of a present as fans could ask for."

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