Ravens' Stock Is Rising With Pundits, But Two NFL Executives Aren't Buying In
The Ravens are trending up as pundit predictions for the season continue to roll out.
The consensus is that the AFC North will be a two-team race between the Ravens and defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals, with Baltimore emerging as the favorite to win the division.
However, the Ravens also have their detractors, including two unnamed NFL executives who ranked them in the bottom half of the AFC.
Here's a look what's being written about the Ravens in the latest round of forecasts:
Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr predicted the outcome of every game of the season, and he had Baltimore winning the AFC North with a 12-5 record and finishing as the No. 2 seed in the conference behind the Los Angeles Chargers (also 12-5). Orr had Cincinnati (11-6) as the top wild-card team.
Despite picking the Ravens to take the division crown, Orr believes they will get swept by the Bengals for the second season in a row. The Ravens' three other losses, according to Orr, will be on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and at home versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos.
Orr thinks the Ravens will sweep the AFC East to open the season.
"Not everyone has roundly celebrated Baltimore's offseason as tirelessly as I have, which is why you see some unbridled enthusiasm here," Orr wrote. Wins over the Jets, Dolphins, Patriots and — yes — Bills over the first four weeks should back up just how serious we really are in making the Ravens a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
In voting by NFL.com analysts, the Ravens received 15 votes to win the AFC North, while the Bengals got 10. Eight of the analysts who picked Cincinnati to win the division have Baltimore earning a wild-card berth.
"On paper, the Ravens are still one of the most talented teams in the league," NFL.com's Marcus Grant wrote. "On the field, they just need to stay healthy enough to show it."
The Athletic asked five anonymous NFL front-office veterans to rank the 16 teams in each conference, and the Ravens ended up at No. 3 behind the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.
"They'll win their division," one of the voters predicted. "I don't know where Joe Burrow is (health-wise). Deshaun Watson will miss the first 11 games, and I don't know where he's at overall after the layoff. I don't know where the quarterback in Pittsburgh is. So I'm saying Baltimore may be the best team in that division with an easier schedule. Are the Ravens the third-best team in the conference? They are in better position than some of those AFC West teams even if they are not as good."
Surprisingly, two of the executives didn't think highly of the Ravens, as one ranked them as the 10th-best team in the AFC (one spot behind the Jacksonville Jaguars) and another put them at No. 11 (one spot behind the Steelers).
"They have no skill players at all other than Mark Andrews," the voter who ranked the Ravens 11th in the AFC said. "Who is Lamar [Jackson] going to throw to? All right, you are going to be a running team. That's great, except your line is not that good. That said, the 11th-best team in the AFC would probably be the fifth or sixth team in the NFC."
No offensive skill players? When healthy, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards form a strong one-two punch at running back. Who will Jackson throw the ball to other than Andrews? I'm guessing wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who showed flashes last year in an injury-hampered rookie season, and rookie tight end Isaiah Likely, who has been a beast all preseason, will see their share of targets.
The offensive line isn't that good? The Ravens revamped the unit by drafting center Tyler Linderbaum in the first round and signing dependable and durable right tackle Morgan Moses. Moreover, there's a chance All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be ready for the Sept. 11 season opener, and the unit has significant depth.
Meanwhile, CBS Sports’ John Breech ranked the Ravens as the most likely team to go from last place in 2021 to first place this year.
"In what might be an NFL first: The Ravens are actually FAVORED to win the AFC North one year after their last place finish. That reason alone made it easy to put the Ravens at the top of this list," Breech wrote. "The thing about Baltimore is that their 8-9 record in 2021 was arguably impressive when you consider how many players they lost to injury. I could try and list them all here, but I don't think there's enough bandwidth on the entire internet to go through every name. … Now that everyone's healthy, the oddsmakers like Baltimore's chances of making the playoffs and I have to say, I agree with them.
"Fortunately for the Ravens, the only big injury they've suffered so far this year is to their mascot, who had to be carted off the field during Baltimore's preseason finale."
Ravens' Four Most-Recent First-Round Picks Will Largely Determine the Team's Fate This Season
How much of an impact the Ravens' four most-recent first-round picks make will likely go a long way in determining how far the team goes this season.
As noted above, the Ravens are counting on Bateman to help improve the passing game and Linderbaum to help solidify the offensive line.
On defense, the team is looking for second-year outside linebacker Odafe Oweh to bolster the pass rush and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton to strengthen an already loaded secondary.
"The goal with Bateman is to force defenses to cover more ground, which means more space in the run game and clearer throwing lanes over the middle. The Ravens enjoyed both in 2019, when they steamrolled the league and Lamar had his best statistical year as a passer, so for Jackson, the benefits are obvious," The Ringer’s Steve Ruiz wrote. "But Bateman isn't just going to step out on the field in Week 1 and command safety help right away. He has to prove he is a threat first.
"Throughout Ravens camp, he's looked the part. In the two days I was there, nobody could cover him, even a star like [Marlon] Humphrey."
Baltimore Beatdown’s Spencer Schultz wrote: "if Bateman proves to be a more consistent deep threat who can move the chains, the Ravens will be in great shape. Bateman possesses a skillset that will allow him to thrive in isolated coverage matchups, where the Ravens have severely struggled, if not totally ignored throwing the football to receivers in those situations."
As for Linderbaum, Schultz wrote: "The Ravens will rely on Linderbaum's quickness, combo-blocking with guards Kevin Zeitler and Ben Powers, then climbing to linebackers and safeties to provide cutback lanes and allow backs to accelerate when they hit their hole. Linderbaum is a catalyst in turning modest gains into big plays by walling off second and third level defenders. His quickness as a puller and on screens, as well as his athleticism in space, could propel the Ravens offense forward and ultimately end their decade long search for a consistent center."
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker said Oweh, who showed flashes as a rookie and is coming off a dominant training camp, could be the man to help the Ravens reclaim their defensive legacy.
"The Ravens desperately need the player Oweh could become," Walker wrote. "Sacks are not the be-all, end-all for judging a team's ability to harass the quarterback, but they have not had a player reach double digits since [Terrell] Suggs in 2017. They finished tied for 22nd in sacks and 24th in pressure rate last season despite ranking sixth in blitz rate.
"Every veteran who lays eyes on Oweh seems to say the same thing: His 'freakish' blend of physical ability and eagerness to learn could make him the next one to carry the Ravens' defensive legacy forward. It's not a burden the 23-year-old backs away from. He posts his goals — private but lofty — on the wall of his home so he sees them every day."
Unlike Bateman, Linderbaum and Oweh, Hamilton isn't expected to be an every-down player (at least early) this season, but he still will have a significant role.
"With [Chuck] Clark and [Marcus] Williams to learn from while integrating into the lineup, Hamilton's skill set should help address a major issue that Baltimore's defense has had recently; covering tight ends," Schultz wrote. "The Ravens have allowed a positive EPA when opposing quarterbacks target tight ends each of the last five seasons. Baltimore needs Hamilton to use his size, physicality and ball skills to turn that narrative around. At Notre Dame, Hamilton never allowed a positive EPA when targeted in each of his three collegiate seasons. Lining Hamilton up against tight ends in high leverage situations should prove fruitful while he gradually increases his snap count.
"The Ravens have also struggled to create turnovers defensively, particularly interceptions. Hamilton led the 2022 draft class in 'hand-on-ball percentage' among defenders, which includes pass breakups, interceptions and recovered fumbles. Hamilton registered eight interceptions and got his hands on a ball through interception, pass breakup or forced fumble on an astonishing 1.9% of his snaps. When Baltimore's historic rushing offense steals possessions and field position, they put teams away."