The Baltimore Ravens were the only playoff team capable of stopping the San Francisco 49ers during the 2012-13 season. Joe Flacco’s Super Bowl MVP performance gave Ravens fans plenty to look forward to for the rest of the decade, especially after the team secured him to a six-year, $120 million contract, followed by an extension through to the 2020 season.
Unfortunately, the Ravens haven’t been able to reach another peak since. Even worse, Baltimore’s streak of missing the playoffs could extend to three years if Flacco and the Ravens aren’t able to turn it around during the 2017 NFL regular season. After failing to qualify for postseason during three of the past four years, another failure could trigger mass changes for the organization. They may not be part of this season’s best NFL future bets, but odds suggest they have a superb chance of earning a playoff berth through their outstanding defense.
Flacco Needs Run Support
There’s no doubt that injuries have severely curtailed Joe Flacco’s progress over the past few years, part of the reason why the Ravens have a 31-33 record since winning the Super Bowl. He’s suffered through poor passer ratings three out of the past four years: 73.1 in 2013, 83.1 in 2015 and 83.5 in 2016. There’s no way the Ravens make the playoffs without a turnaround from their star quarterback.
Flacco hasn’t looked the same since tearing his MCL and ACL late in 2015, even if doctors say he made a complete recovery. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the front office has done little to replace the legendary Steve Smith Sr., refusing to sign an elite receiver or take a calculated risk by drafting a highly-ranked prospect.
There’s nothing wrong with their receiving corps. They are equipped with decent top end speed, especially on outside routes. However, they simply don’t have a playmaker that Flacco can depend on when the offense needs to break through a tough secondary.
The run game will need to function better if the Ravens want to afford Joe more space. Danny Woodhead will join Terrance West in the backfield, forming a competent duo which will earn yards by committee. Who ends up being the third back at this point is anyone’s guess.
As is the case with most NFL teams, Baltimore’s offensive success is predicated on their O-line performance. Ricky Wagner fled to Detroit for big time cash while Jeremy Zuttah was jettisoned to the Bay Area with the 49ers. It remains to be seen if the offensive line will provide the protection necessary to spearhead Flacco’s return to form.
Defensive Improvements Integral to Playoff Hopes
After the defense gave away late, game-winning drives at an alarming rate in 2016, the Ravens front office decided to reconstitute. Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson signed during free agency, and Baltimore invested a quartet of picks on Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Marlon Humphrey and Chris Wormley.
As such, the Ravens now feature a deep defensive core, reminiscent of squads around the turn of the century. This will take a bit of the pressure off the offense, giving the Ravens an opportunity to forge chemistry when they have the ball. If their youngsters perform well, Baltimore could once again represent a feared defensive squad.
Special Teams Need to Find Another Gear
Nobody’s worried about kicker Justin Tucker, who’s been selected for the Pro Bowl twice during his career. He hit 38-39 field goals in 2016, a mark of consistency expected from this standout kicker. Punter Sam Koch pairs with Tucker to form one of the top duos in the NFL, making it tough for returners to gather momentum.
Baltimore’s kick returners are another story, as a lackluster Devin Hester ceded way to Michael Campanaro late last year. The Ravens will probably need to have an audition to figure out who should receive the majority of the kicks, which isn’t an ideal scenario, to say the least. The Ravens can make the playoffs if everything falls into place. Look for Baltimore to try hit the 10-win mark, which would be enough to end their current playoff drought.