Two Pundits Have Three AFC North Teams Making Playoffs, and Ravens Aren't One of Them
The Ravens are largely viewed by pundits as the biggest threat in the AFC North to the two-time defending division champion Cincinnati Bengals and a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Not everyone sees it that way, however.
The Ringer's Bill Simmons and Pro Football Talk’s Myles Simmons (who are not related) both predicted the AFC North will send three teams to the playoffs: the Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cleveland Browns.
If Bill Simmons' predictions come to fruition and the Ravens fail to make the playoffs, they'll be in good company. He also has the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Los Angeles Chargers missing out on the postseason.
That's bold. Perhaps even bolder is that he has the Steelers, not the Bengals, winning the AFC North and securing the No. 1 seed.
"People are gonna think I'm drunk," Simmons said when revealing his predictions on "The Bill Simmons Podcast." "Listen, you gotta bump out six or seven teams from last year. You just have to. This is the way the NFL rules."
Myles Simmons picked the Bengals to win the AFC North and be the No. 1 seed. He has the Steelers and Browns as the sixth and seventh seeds, respectively.
Incidentally, PFT's Mike Florio is also on the Steelers bandwagon. He has the Steelers securing the top wild-card spot and then knocking off the Bengals and Miami Dolphins in the first two rounds of the playoffs before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
Sports Illustrated Writer Predicts Ravens Will Lead League in Passing
A growing number of pundits are expecting big things from Lamar Jackson this season, including Sports Illustrated’s Claire Kuwana, who predicted the Ravens will lead the league in passing yards.
"This year, it'll be Lamar Jackson's unit that stomps on the NFL, with Odell Beckham Jr. providing just enough of a threat to unlock the potential of rookie Zay Flowers and Rashod Bateman," Kuwana wrote. "Mark Andrews will also bounce back to his 2021 Octopus Award–winning form. (With regards to Andrews's potential injury, I'm putting my trust in John Harbaugh, who said last week, 'You don't need to panic.')
"All in all, the combination of these target options, a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken and Jackson's reignited commitment to the team — after signing his $185 million extension, the quarterback said he wants to throw for 6,000 yards — will take Baltimore's passing unit from the bottom five last season to the top in '23."
"Good Morning Football's" Jason McCourty predicted Jackson will win his second league MVP award.
"He's coming back with a vengeance," McCourty said. "He has weapons around him. He has a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken. … Lamar Jackson, MVP. Him and his mom on stage at NFL Honors — I'm here for it."
The Ringer’s Ben Solak also went with Jackson for MVP.
"He has already won the award once, so we know he's capable — and if the reconstruction of the Ravens' passing game is successful in year one, Jackson should reestablish himself as the greatest dual-threat quarterback in the league," Solak wrote.
Solak's colleague, Danny Kelly, picked Jackson to win Offensive Player of the Year.
"Jackson's numbers will explode in the up-tempo, spread-out schemes that Todd Monken is bringing to Baltimore," Kelly wrote. "He'll benefit from having the best pass-catching group of his career around him, too."
NFL.com’s Adam Schein predicted Jackson will rise to new heights as a passer this season.
"If you don't believe me, ask the man himself," Schein wrote. "Last week on SiriusXM, I told Lamar Jackson that he was primed for his best passing season yet. Despite the fact that Jackson already won a unanimous MVP while leading the NFL in passing touchdowns, Lamar didn't disagree, saying he's 'a lot wiser' at age 26. He's also 100 percent healthy — and 1,000 percent happy, with all the contract drama in the rearview."
ESPN analyst and former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott believes Jackson will flourish as both a runner and passer.
"I think Lamar Jackson is going to have as many yards rushing as he had in the previous, but it's going to be different because now Lamar Jackson is going to have a field with space," Scott said. "So often he saw a condensed field where he didn't have guys that can stretch the field vertically or horizontally. Now he has guys that are going to create space, and I think his yards are going to be from scrambling naturally, not from designed runs."
NFL Executives Rank Ravens As AFC's Fifth-Best Team
The Athletic asked six anonymous NFL executives to rank the 16 AFC teams. When the votes were tallied, the Ravens landed at No. 5, trailing the Chiefs, Bengals, Jaguars, and Bills.
Baltimore was ranked as high as No. 2 and as low as No. 8.
"The six-spot spread between highest and lowest votes for Baltimore was the second-largest for any team in the AFC (Pittsburgh 7)," The Athletic's Mike Sando wrote. "The gap represents differing expectations on offense with a new coordinator implementing a scheme that promises to feature Lamar Jackson more as a passer. There are also questions about a defense that has fallen off over the past couple seasons."
The executive who ranked the Ravens at No. 2 believes the new-look offense is poised for success.
"People are down on Lamar because of injuries, but this is still a relatively young guy who has the best setup of his career from an offensive standpoint," one executive said. "I'm really intrigued with Monken coming in to modernize the pass game. We know they will be able to run the ball. I like Baltimore in the overlooked, chip-on-their-shoulder role with a rejuvenated Lamar, a head coach who always keeps his teams competitive, a young receiver in Zay Flowers who can get open quickly, some additional explosiveness with Odell Beckham Jr."
Another executive expressed a more pessimistic view.
"The new passing offense should be great until the third week of the season when the offense miraculously looks the same as it did before," this executive said.
Beckham Named Ravens' X Factor
Solak identified each team’s X factor. For the Ravens, he went with Beckham, although he noted that there were other candidates, all of whom are wide receivers.
"Here's what I know about the Ravens' passing attack: I know Lamar Jackson is a quality NFL passer with the talent to make it work. (He's 13th in the league in EPA per pass attempt since 2019. That means we're excluding scrambles.)," Solak wrote. "I also know that Todd Monken can build a great passing attack at the NFL level. (Anyone else fondly remember those Jameis Winston seasons?) What I don't know is how this wide receiver room will shake out.
"Zay Flowers is an X factor — a rookie with great talent but size questions. Rashod Bateman is an X factor — a first-rounder who has been good, but unable to stay on the field. And Beckham is an X factor. I'm willing to call him the biggest one because he's the one that we know, for sure, when healthy, is an impactful player. Beckham played great during the Rams' Super Bowl season and is 1.5 years removed from his ACL tear — presumably, he's fully healthy. If he's good, the Ravens have every piece in place."
Beckham has looked good in training camp and said yesterday that he can't wait for Sunday to get here and feels like it's his first game (it will be his first game since playing in the Super Bowl in February 2022).
Bateman, who underwent Lisfranc foot surgery last year, is on track to play Sunday and also said yesterday that he "feels really good."
Flowers has been impressive in the preseason and is generating Offensive Rookie of the Year buzz.