It’s amazing what one losing season will do to a team. After being a trendy Super Bowl pick heading into 2015, a season which fell far short of even a postseason berth, expectations are far lower for Baltimore heading into 2016.
In this week’s Q&A among ESPN’s AFC North writers, Jamison Hensley asked, “Will the Ravens miss the playoffs in back to back seasons?”
When I first read the title, my initial thought was the opinion would be split. Sure, 2015 was pretty dreadful, but the Ravens are prime candidates for a bounce back season. With key contributors returning from injury and new additions like Benjamin Watson, Eric Weddle and Mike Wallace, the Ravens have an opportunity to make 2015 just a blip on the radar.
Apparently, the experts who cover the AFC North don’t agree. Hensley doesn’t answer the question himself, but Cole Harvey (Bengals), Pat McManamon (Browns), and Jeremy Fowler (Steelers) are all in agreement that the Ravens will be sitting at home again come this January. Their explanations for their predictions vary.
Harvey claims it has less to do with the Ravens and more to do with the rest of the division:
“Right now, a couple of months before the start of the regular season, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have, on paper, the best roster in the AFC North.”
I’d agree with Harvey’s opinion that the Steelers have the best roster in the division, but there’s a good chance that the Bengals take a step back in 2016, especially on offense. While Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones aren’t elite receivers, they are good ones. Losing both is a major blow to their offense. Add Tyler Eifert’s questionable status and the loss of Hue Jackson and the Bengals offense could struggle in 2016.
McManamon points to the Ravens’ recent history:
“The Ravens have missed the playoffs in two of the last three years after making the postseason the first five years that Harbaugh was coach. That’s not an upward trend.”
That’s a fair point, but you could also make the argument that the Ravens recent struggles have developed a sense of urgency. The Ravens were much more active in free agency in 2016, and this year’s roster looks much different than the past three seasons. The Ravens still have a win now mentality, and they’ve made it clear that anything short of a postseason berth will be a failure.
Jeremy Fowler points to the schedule:
“The Ravens’ schedule is designed for a late season stumble. They travel to New England, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the final four weeks. That’s brutal.”
Visiting your three biggest rivals on the road in the final four weeks of the season is a daunting task. But the Ravens have proven to be road warriors under John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco. Flacco has more road playoff wins than any quarterback in NFL history. He’s proven that playing on the road doesn’t really faze him. It would be naive to say the odds are in the Ravens’ favor, but all three are winnable games.
In the event ESPN cares (which they definitely don’t), here is my take.
The Ravens are coming off of one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. They are counting on some aging players and a lot of question marks remain, but there is a sense of urgency in Baltimore. This isn’t a franchise that is used to losing, especially under John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco. The Ravens are getting a lot of key pieces back and were much more aggressive in free agency.
Eric Weddle will help shore up the back end of the defense and even if Breshad Perriman misses time, the Ravens added the vertical threat they were missing last season with Mike Wallace. Marc Trestman loves tight ends and running backs, and both groups boast a ridiculous amount of depth. Cincinnati takes a step back and the Ravens take a step forward. I don’t see them winning the division, but a wild card spot is certainly within reach.