Pundits Debate Whether Ravens Are Serious Super Bowl Contenders
Are the Ravens a Super Bowl contender or pretender?
The prevailing opinion last week was that the Ravens are an elite team with a realistic shot of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February. But another fourth quarter fade this past Sunday has raised questions about whether Baltimore truly has what it takes to win it all.
CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr contended that the Ravens can't be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender after blowing a 14-point lead against the Cleveland Browns at home.
"The Browns never had an AFC North road victory when trailing by 14-plus points prior to Sunday, showcasing the wrong side of history the Ravens were on," Kerr wrote. "This has been a trend in Baltimore. The Ravens have lost nine games when leading by seven-plus points in the fourth quarter, the most by any team in any three-year span in NFL history. New offensive coordinator, same issues late.
"As good as Baltimore is, it's hard to take them seriously as a Super Bowl contender with the blown leads late."
NFL.com’s Eric Edholm isn't ready to declare the Ravens a pretender, but he admitted that his faith in the team has been shaken.
"They have all the ingredients — coaching, a balanced roster and Lamar Jackson — to be a title contender," Edholm wrote. "I'm not backing off my midseason prediction that they'll make the Super Bowl. But games such as Sunday's don't help in the trust department."
Former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has no such concern about the Ravens' ability to make a Super Bowl run despite the team's penchant for squandering leads.
"No, I'm not worried at all," Pagano said on Glenn Clark Radio. "Too good of coaches, too good of talent, organization, top to bottom. They'll get this thing rectified. It's really simple. Just do the little things."
Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuinness looked at the six games the Ravens have lost after leading by double digits over the past two seasons and concluded that the "noise" about the team this week is overblown.
"Six games might seem like a lot, but it's still a small sample size," McGuinness wrote. "It also ignores the 16 games since the start of the 2022 season where the Ravens built a double-digit lead and went on to win. With a lead of 10 or more points at any point in games, the Ravens have a 72.7% winning percentage over the past two seasons. You can point to all three of their losses this season and find a couple of plays where if they simply execute better, they probably win. Drops proved costly in the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and an unfathomable chain of blunders against the Indianapolis Colts sealed Baltimore's fate.
"The reality is that when a team loses games in this fashion, questions are going to be asked. But at this point, it's likely more noise than anything else. It's on the Ravens' coaching staff to work to be more efficient on both sides of the ball and prevent this from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy for the team. A team can only blow a lead if it builds one, and the Ravens have been very good at building leads with Lamar Jackson at quarterback."
Eric DeCosta Ranked Among Top 10 General Managers
PFF ranked the NFL general managers, and Eric DeCosta placed in the top 10.
"DeCosta was the heir to Ozzie Newsome, arguably the greatest general manager in modern NFL history, and has largely adhered to his principles as he stewards the next chapter of Ravens football: maneuver both up and down the draft, extend your core pieces early, make occasional splashes in the veteran trade market as both buyers and sellers and tap into the free agency market later in the game after sitting out the first few waves and earning compensatory picks," PFF's Brad Spielberger wrote.
Spielberger noted that DeCosta made sound business decisions in trading offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and wide receiver Marquise Brown, who were up for contract extensions. The Ravens received a first-round pick in each deal, and those picks turned into edge rusher Odafe Oweh and center Tyler Linderbaum.
"DeCosta reset the clock on rookie contracts and may have traded two good players who needed to be paid for two great ones who will provide several more years of surplus value," Spielberger wrote. "Moves like those are what enabled the splash trade for linebacker Roquan Smith."
Spielberger said that extensions for left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, tight end Mark Andrews "were well-timed." He also pointed out that guard Kevin Zeitler, defensive tackle Michael Pierce and edge defenders Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy are all free-agent additions that have made a major impact and didn't affect compensatory picks.
Justin Madubuike 'In Line to Earn Big Dollars'
Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike is having a breakout season in a contract year and has set himself up for a big payday this offseason. He is ranked No. 13 in ESPN's top 25 free agent rankings.
"While Chris Jones and Christian Wilkins are the more well-known names at interior defensive line, Madubuike is also in line to earn big dollars in March," Jeremy Fowler wrote. "Like Robert Hunt, he's in the category of 'he'll make more money than people think.' He's a major disruptor in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme."
Speculating on a potential landing spot for Madubuike if the Ravens don't re-sign him, Fowler wrote: "The Giants need a Leonard Williams replacement, and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale could tap into his old team's current roster for help."
Madubuike, who turns 26 on Friday, leads the Ravens with 8.5 sacks this season, which equals the number of sacks he had in his three previous seasons. He has recorded at least one sack in a franchise record seven consecutive games.
Deshaun Watson to Undergo Season-Ending Shoulder Surgery
Breaking news shook up the AFC North Wednesday morning as Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery.
Watson has been dealing with issues in his throwing shoulder this season and he reportedly re-injured it in the first quarter of Sunday's game in Baltimore. Watson still went on to have one of his best games as a Brown, completing 20 of 34 passes for 213 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
The Browns (6-3) will now turn to veteran PJ Walker, who has thrown for 618 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions over five games (two starts) this season.