Predictions this time of year don’t carry much weight. Rosters are still being built, injuries happen in training camp, and we are still around two and a half months away from seeing any preseason action.
But with the draft in the books and the most significant free agent moves made, it’s certainly much easier to have an opinion on the Ravens chances in 2014 than it was three months ago.
Perhaps the biggest debate- will the Ravens recapture the AFC North?
Yes and here’s why…
First of all this year’s defense could be good, really good. Last year’s defense improved significantly from 2012 and ranked higher in almost every category. This trend should continue. The Ravens used their first three picks in this year’s draft on very talented players who could all see significant if not starting roles immediately.
Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta have done a great job infusing Pro Bowl veterans with some great young talent. The result could be a top five defense.
Sure, the loss of Corey Graham and Arthur Jones are significant. However let’s not forget Jones was a 5th round pick and Graham was primarily a special teams player before coming to the Ravens. Chances are they are just part of the annual trend of Ravens players who are paid top dollar by another team, and then go on to put up mediocre stats at best.
Another factor is the offense has most definitely improved. Steve Smith is 35 years old but he is playing with a serious chip on his shoulder. He was shunned by the Panthers and is out to prove that they made a mistake. The over/under for his receiving yards according to Vegas is 950. He will come somewhere close.
Jeremy Zuttah isn’t an elite center, but he’s an upgrade from Gino Gradkowski, and don’t be surprised if Ozzie still has a trick up his sleeve in regards to the right tackle position. The running game will improve under Gary Kubiak, regardless of who is in the backfield.
Throw Owen Daniels and a healthy Dennis Pitta in the mix and it’s not a far fetched idea that Joe Flacco could rebound from the worst year he’s had as a pro, to having his best ever in 2014.
Perhaps the biggest part of this equation is looking at the rest of the AFC North.
The Browns are being lauded for having a great offseason. Regardless of whether or not this ends up being true, they may have lost their best receiver to a yearlong suspension, and they will start either Brian Hoyer or you know who at quarterback.
The Steelers had a good draft and added LeGarrette Blount, but lost one of their best receivers to free agency and haven’t done much else.
In Cincinnati Andy Dalton is feeling the pressure of a contract year and AJ McCarron. Dalton handles pressure about as well as Joe Flacco handles his acting duties in McDonalds commercials, sorry Joe.
Missing the playoffs and losing the AFC North crown stung for fans. But rest assured that the disappointment was felt ten-fold for those within the Ravens organization, and they desperately want to get back.
Given the way the schedule sets up, we will know early on where the Ravens stand in their quest to recapture their division crown.
Based on the way things look now, their chances are good.