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Late for Work: ESPN Simulation Projects Ravens-Eagles Super Bowl

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

ESPN Simulation Projects Ravens-Eagles Super Bowl

If a simulation of the 2023 season by ESPN’s Football Power Index proves prescient, Ravens fans can book their flights to Las Vegas for Super Bowl LVII.

In the simulation the Ravens won the AFC North with an 11-6 record and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, they fell just short of claiming the third Lombardi Trophy in franchise history, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, 14-10.

"In the Super Bowl, the Eagles' defense — fueled by second-year defensive tackle Jordan Davis' run-stuffing and linebacker Haason Reddick's pass rush— stifled the Ravens' offense," Seth Walder of ESPN Analytics wrote.

The simulation projected the Ravens and Bengals to engage in a hard-fought battle for the AFC North crown.

"In Week 2, the Ravens took an early edge in the division race by winning an 18-12 defensive struggle against the Bengals that dropped Cincy to 0-2," Walder wrote. "By Week 8, the Bengals had fought back, taking a half-game lead over Baltimore. But that's when [Lamar] Jackson really got hot and engineered a four-game winning streak — including a 19-17 victory over the Bengals — reminding us of the Jackson who was once league MVP.

"In the end, the Bengals couldn't catch them. The Ravens won the division as an 11-win No. 3 seed, while the Bengals finished one game back as the No. 6 seed. The rivals squared off a third time in the playoffs, with the result mirroring the first two. Jackson flourished and the Ravens sacked Joe Burrow five times in a 31-19 defeat to send Cincinnati home."

The Ravens went on to defeat the second-seeded Tennessee Titans, 24-14, in the divisional round, before knocking off the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs, 24-20, in the AFC Championship Game, thanks to Jackson's game-winning touchdown drive.

Meanwhile, NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund projected win totals for every AFC team, and she had the Ravens at 10.0, trailing only the Chiefs (11.3), Bengals (10.9), and Buffalo Bills (10-6).

Frelund's model had the Ravens' ceiling at 12.0 and floor at 7.7. Interestingly, Baltimore's ceiling was higher than Cincinnati's (11.9).

"This is due to Cincinnati having a tougher strength of schedule (based on opponents' 2022 winning percentage) after winning the division last season," Frelund wrote. "The Ravens often have a high variance between their floor and ceiling, but this year, it's less about the offense and more about whether the defense will come together (especially to stop the pass).

"Roquan Smith was electric after coming to Baltimore via midseason trade last year, but with Marlon Humphrey likely out for at least a couple games after undergoing foot surgery and some questions about the pass rush (even after bringing in veteran Jadeveon Clowney), stopping the aerial attack could be difficult. And in the extremely competitive AFC North, margins are razor thin."

Stephen A. Smith Picks Jackson to Win MVP

Jackson is one of only two players in NFL history to be unanimous league MVP (Tom Brady is the other). This season, Jackson is poised to join another exclusive group, according to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.

Smith picked Jackson to capture his second MVP award, joining Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, and Patrick Mahomes as the only NFL players to win multiple MVPs.

Smith believes we will see the best version of Jackson thanks in large part to the additions at wide receiver of three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. and first-round rookie Zay Flowers.

"I'm looking at this particular stat: 95 touchdown passes since 2019, the most for a quarterback without a Pro Bowl wide receiver, in NFL history," Smith said. "That's what you did thus far. And now you've got Odell Beckham and Zay Flowers, with [Mark] Andrews, with [Rashod] Bateman, with [Devin] Duvernay?"

Beyond the names Smith mentioned, the Ravens also have veteran wide receiver Nelson Agholor and tight end Isaiah Likely, a second-year breakout candidate.

'Good Morning Football' Crew Split on Jackson or Joe Burrow As AFC North's Best Quarterback

Smith isn't the only pundit who has high expectations for Jackson this season.

The Bengals' Joe Burrow is usually a few places ahead of Jackson in pundits' quarterback rankings, but two of the four members of the "Good Morning Football" crew went with Jackson over Burrow for best quarterback in the AFC North.

"This is a guy that got paid this offseason; he got some new weapons," Jason McCourty said. "I chose Zay Flowers as my Rookie of the Year offensively. Odell Beckham is there as well. And we don't even talk about Mark Andrews, his No. 1 target since he has come into the NFL. I think Lamar Jackson is going to be healthy this year, he's going to be happy with his new deal. I think he's going to surprise people in [Offensive Coordinator Todd] Monken's new offense being not only able to run and be as dynamic as he's been throughout his career, but also throwing some bombs to his guys out there."

Kyle Brandt also chose Jackson.

"I think if you got both of their best games, I'd rather have Lamar," Brandt said. "I think Burrow is fantastic but Lamar can do things no player in the league can do, that no player in the league ever has done. If you gave me both of their A-plus games, I think Lamar's game is superior because of what he can do outside the pocket, and the improv, and all that stuff."

Things to Know About New Offense Under Monken

The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer looked at the Ravens' new offense under Monken from A to Z. Here are some excerpts from Shaffer's alphabetical analysis:

Air Raid offense: "Monken's success at Oklahoma State under coach Mike Gundy earned him a label as an Air Raid play-caller, reliant on four-wide-receiver shotgun sets and a pass-first approach. At Georgia, with a dominant offensive line and deep tight end room, he turned to a more balanced game plan and heavier personnel. But there were still Air Raid concepts in the Bulldogs' passing attack, just as there are Air Raid staples in the Ravens' playbook, too. Wide receiver Tylan Wallace drew a pass-interference penalty in the preseason against the Washington Commanders on a 'Four Verts' play: four wide receivers running go routes, stretching the secondary not only vertically but horizontally as well."

Deception: "Monken's never afraid to reach into his bag of trick plays. In the College Football Playoff semifinals two years ago, Georgia scored on an 18-yard pass play from running back Kenny McIntosh, who'd taken a shotgun handoff, to wide-open wide receiver Adonai Mitchell. Last year, in the Southeastern Conference title game, the Bulldogs scored the final points of a 50-30 blowout win over LSU with an end-around pass on a 2-point conversion."

Late-game success: "The Ravens lost just two games by double digits last season, with the first not coming until Week 15. In most cases, they struggled to put away opposing defenses. The Ravens' fourth-quarter offense ranked 26th in EPA per play and averaged just 5.1 points per period last season. Georgia, meanwhile, ranked 15th in EPA per fourth-quarter play last season among 133 qualifying offenses, and it averaged 7.9 points per period."

Pace: "On the Ravens' best drive of the preseason, a four-play, 80-yard march to the end zone against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense filled with starters, the offense did not wait long to get going.[Josh] Johnson snapped the ball on the offense's first play with 11 seconds left. The second: with 15 seconds left. Then 13 seconds. Then, finally, 12 seconds. Monken didn't need a 40-second play clock; the Ravens would've been fine with just 30 seconds. It wasn't a warp-speed pace of play, but it felt like it. Under the more deliberate [Greg] Roman, Jackson often found himself in a race against the clock before the snap. Under Monken, the sooner the Ravens can get to the line of scrimmage, the more time they'll have to adjust their play call, if necessary. Defenses will have to be on the lookout for no-huddle plays, too."

Screens: "Jackson has never finished a season higher than 28th in the NFL in attempted screens, according to Pro Football Focus. That should change under Monken. [Stetson] Bennett attempted 100 screen passes at Georgia last season, completing 87 for 633 yards (6.3 per attempt) and a touchdown, according to PFF. Only six FBS quarterbacks threw more screens in 2022. With elusive ball carriers at running back, tight end and wide receiver, as well as a relatively mobile offensive line, the Ravens could have one of the NFL's most diverse screen games."

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