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50 Words or Less: Ravens Have What It Takes to Win it All

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

Baltimore is on its (late) bye in Week 13, and we have a good idea of what this team is all about.

The Ravens are 9-3 and atop the AFC but have the third-hardest schedule remaining with the Chiefs and others nipping at their heels in the race for the top seed, and the Steelers and Browns not far behind in the fight to be AFC North champion.

Here are my thoughts on the state of the team, all in 50 words or less:

As I watch games on TV this weekend, as I did after TNF two weeks ago, I suspect I'll feel like the Ravens are better than other teams. There's not a lot of, "Man, why can't we look like that?!" these days. The grass isn't greener on the other side.

The Ravens weren't perfect in their 20-10 win in Los Angeles last week. News flash: no team is perfect. The Ravens must keep improving, particularly in the passing game, if they're going to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl, but there aren't many flaws.

I'm weary of the weekly debate over who the top team is in the AFC. There's a lot of good teams, seemingly more than usual, and the Ravens are absolutely one of them. With this defense, a strong run game, and plenty of offensive weapons, they'll contend for a championship.

This is the first time the Ravens have started 9-3 since 2012 and we all know how that season ended. They started 10-2 during the 2019 season, but I think this team is better than both of those squads. Baltimore has a better defense and more ways to win offensively.

Baltimore's offense wasn't humming in L.A., but before we push the panic button, remember that the Ravens averaged 34.6 points per game the previous five weeks. The Ravens still posted 361 total yards of offense against the Chargers, which is more than all but nine teams in the league average.

Joe Flacco will start tomorrow for the Browns as they look to hang in the AFC North race. With that defense and a bunch of very winnable games remaining, Flacco gives them a shot. My "I'll always root for Joe" days are done. I want no parts of January Joe.

With that said, I find it highly amusing to watch Browns fans who once dogged Flacco contort themselves into believing he will save their season. Maybe he will. Either way, I'm glad to be alive to see the "Is Flacco elite?" debate gear back up when he's 38 years old.

There is no replacing Mark Andrews, so the Ravens are using the tight end in a different way with Isaiah Likely. Likely has more wiggle and can be a weapon in space. "Slant King" Odell Beckham Jr. and others may have to take on more of the contested catch duties.

Veteran tight end Zach Ertz became available after asking for his release from the Cardinals. He's apparently looking to join a contender and the Ravens would fit the bill. I like Likely and his high potential, but adding a veteran who's been there, done that in big moments is intriguing.

In his first game back from his Week 1 knee injury, Ronnie Stanley had his worst game (nine pressures allowed versus Pittsburgh). He got better and was having his best game before his second knee injury. Stanley's return was rough Sunday, but I expect he'll improve as he gets healthier.

The Ravens don't score the play-action 3-yard touchdown to Zay Flowers without Rashod Bateman's leaping grab on third-and-9 earlier that same series. Bateman's snap count keeps going up, and his five targets in L.A. were tied for a season high. He's part of the answer down the stretch.

Keaton Mitchell took over the lead role in the Ravens' backfield in Los Angeles, including late with the game on the line. Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken said, "as he gets more and more comfortable, we get more and more comfortable with him and certain personnel groupings." More reps to come.

A perfect example of the Ravens' selfless pass rush came with Patrick Queen's robotic pass rush against the Chargers, in which he surrendered his own free run at Justin Herbert to set the pick for Justin Madubuike. It's contagious, and one reason the Ravens lead the league in sacks.

Who has been the Ravens' best defender? According to Pro Football Focus, it's Roquan Smith (87.8 grade) but Kyle Hamilton isn't far behind. Hamilton was PFF's highest-graded safety as a rookie and he's significantly better now. He should go to his first of many Pro Bowls this year.

The Ravens' decision to move on from Marcus Peters has proven to be correct. Peters, who was released by the Raiders this week, had a great run in Baltimore and is very respected. But Brandon Stephens has blossomed in that spot and veteran Ronald Darby has been a great addition.

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