Baltimore Ravens 2017 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Ravens shockingly won the Super Bowl in 2012, with just 7 of 14 of their wins coming by more than a field goal, but have been paying for it ever since. After sneaking into the playoffs with 10 wins, Joe Flacco played unlike he ever had in the Ravens’ 4 playoff victories, en route to the Super Bowl, completing 57.9% of his passes for an average of 9.05 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and no interceptions. As a result, the Ravens gave him a then-record 6-year, 120.6 million dollar deal to keep him as a free agent the following off-season, but he has not been able to recapture his 2012 post-season form.

In fact, his numbers have arguably gotten worse since. In the first 5 seasons of his career, prior to winning the Super Bowl, Flacco completed 60.5% of his passes for an average of 7.08 YPA, 102 touchdowns, and 56 interceptions. In the 4 seasons since winning the Super Bowl, he has completed 62.5% of his passes for an average of 6.66 YPA, 80 touchdowns, and 61 interceptions. He’s finished above average over a season on Pro Football Focus just 3 times in 9 years in the league and finished last season 25th out of 34 eligible quarterbacks. He hasn’t nearly been worth his contract.

That contract has clogged their cap space up and forced them to part ways with important players ever since. As a result, they’ve made the post-season just once in 4 seasons since that Super Bowl victory. The Ravens have also re-negotiated the deal several times, in an effort to free up immediate cap space, at the cost of future cap space. In one of those re-negotiations, they made the deal 3 years longer and gave him more guaranteed money, so he is now under contract through his age 36 season in 2021. His cap number for 2017 is still a league high 24.55 million and the Ravens wouldn’t save cap space by releasing him until after the 2018 season. He’s already been paid 91 million since the Super Bowl and is scheduled to make 187 million total over a 9-year period under his current contract.

The Ravens should be doing more to find and develop a future franchise quarterback behind him. His salary is only going to get less justifiable as he gets older and he’s already going into his age 32 season. Even if the Ravens can’t realistically move on from him for two seasons, they should try to be prepared with another option by that point. In the meantime, the Ravens need to run the ball more consistently if they want to make it back to the post-season. They have led the NFL in passing attempts in each of the last 2 seasons and that is not that kind of offense Joe Flacco thrives in.

Grade: C+

Running Backs

The Ravens finished 24th and 20th in the league in yards per carry in 2015 and 2016 respectively and averaged just 3.92 yards per carry between the two seasons, despite often running in situations where the defense is playing sub packages and expecting the pass. They needed to add help at running back this off-season, but only added Danny Woodhead, who will be much more valuable to the Ravens in the air as a receiver than on the ground. His career high is 109 carries in a season and he heads into his age 32 season coming off of a season in which he misesed all but 2 games with a torn ACL.

Their best chance at having a true feature back at some point this season is second year back Kenneth Dixon, a 4th rounder in 2016. Dixon missed the first 4 games of his rookie season with injury and didn’t really get into the flow of things until mid-season, but he led the team with 61 carries over the final 6 games of the season. He had 8 more carries than Terrance West over that stretch, even though West led the team with 193 carries on the season. Dixon also outperformed West on the season, averaging 4.34 yards per carry on 88 carries, while West averaged just 4.01 yards per carry on his carries.

West, a 2014 3rd round pick, has just a career 3.94 YPC on 426 carries and is a low end lead back at best. Dixon has much more potential, but will miss the first 4 games of the season after failing a drug test this off-season, which definitely hurts his breakout potential. West will carry the load in Dixon’s absence, and West and Dixon will split carries in some fashion upon his return, likely with Dixon leading the way. Woodhead, meanwhile, may lead the position in snaps played because he figures to play in just about every passing situation. That will hurt Dixon and West in terms of many targets they get (64 combined in 2016), but Woodhead has had 75+ catches in his last two healthy seasons, so he’s obviously a better passing down option. They need Dixon to break out as a running down complement.

Grade: B-

Receiving Corps

The Ravens didn’t just have the most pass attempts in the league last season. They also lost the most targets this off-season, as players totalling 345 targets last season are no longer with the team, more than half of their total amount of 679. Most importantly, the Ravens lost wide receiver Steve Smith (103 targets) and Dennis Pitta (119 targets). The former retired this off-season, while the latter is likely to retire, after dislocating his hip for the 3rd time in 4 years. Even if he does not officially retire, he will not play this season.

Their top returning target is Mike Wallace, who was targeted 117 times. He impressively turned those 117 targets into 72 catches for 1017 yards and 4 scores. He’s unlikely to be that good again in 2017 though. Wallace is a well known name because of his speed, but last season was the first season in which he topped 1000+ yards and the first season in which he finished above average on Pro Football Focus since 2011. Wallace seems to have great chemistry with Joe Flacco, but is going into his age 31 season and could easily take a step back performance wise in 2017.

Free agent acquisition Jeremy Maclin could easily be this team’s #1 target. Maclin was let go by the Chiefs after the draft, but that was primarily because he wasn’t worth his 10 million dollar salary to a team that was in a rough spot in terms of cap space. The Chiefs claim he lost a step, but that’s probably because he played half of last season with a torn groin. Prior to his injury, Maclin was on pace for a solid 69/859/5 slash line.

Prior to last season, Maclin posted slash lines of 85/1318/10 and 87/1088/8 in 2014 and 2015 respectively and finished in the top-25 among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus in both seasons. He’s still only going into his age 29 season, so he has obvious bounce back potential if he can stay healthy. That’s a big if though, as he’s played all 16 games just twice in 8 seasons in the league and has missed 26 of 128 games in his career. With injuries starting to pile up, it’s possible his best days are behind him, but he’s still a solid starting caliber receiver at the very least when healthy. He’ll start opposite Wallace and move inside to the slot in 3 and 4 wide receiver sets.

Maclin was acquired partially because the Ravens still don’t trust 2015 1st round pick Breshad Perriman, who will remain the 3rd receiver with Maclin in town and play outside opposite Wallace in 3-wide receiver sets when Maclin moves inside. Perriman missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury and then was unspectacular on 486 snaps in 16 games last season, catching just 33 of 66 targets (50%) for 499 yards and 3 touchdowns and finishing 83rd out of 115 eligible wide receivers on Pro Football Focus. Still only going into his age 24 season, Perriman still has a high upside, but needs to show that he’s more than a situational deep threat. Considered a boom or bust prospect coming out of college, it’s possible Perriman never figures it out.

The Ravens will need their top-3 receivers to all play well because, with Pitta gone, they don’t have a single tight end on the roster who caught more than 10 passes or played more than 247 snaps last season. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was their de facto #2 tight end last season, catching 37 passes on 465 snaps, both league highs for fullbacks, but he’s in San Francisco now. Darren Waller finished 2nd on the team in catches by a tight end last season with 10, but turned them into just 85 yards and didn’t block well at all. A converted college wide receiver who was just a 6th round pick in 2015, Waller is suspended for the whole 2017 season after failing multiple drug tests.

Fortunately, the Ravens do have some options at tight end, though most of them are coming off of serious injury. Ben Watson is their most experienced receiving tight end, but also missed all of last season with a torn achilles and is going into his age 37 season, so he’s a complete question mark for 2017. Watson shockingly had a big receiving year in 2015 with the Saints, posting a 74/825/6 slash line, but that was largely because he got 109 targets on one of the best offenses in the league. Prior to 2015, Watson had 39 catches in his previous 2 seasons combined. He could still be a solid blocker, but I wouldn’t expect much from him as a receiver, given his age and the injury he suffered last season. He had to take a paycut from 3 million down to 1.25 million this off-season to keep his roster spot.

Maxx Williams is a promising tight end, but he played in just 4 games last season and basically missed the whole season with knee problems, as he played just 54 snaps and didn’t catch a pass. Williams, a 2015 2nd round pick, flashed as a receiver and a run blocker on 477 snaps as a rookie and still has upside if he can stay healthy, in still only his age 23 season. He’s not expected to be ready for training camp though, and could reportedly be placed on the reserve/PUP and miss the first 6 games of the season, so that’s a big if, but he’s easily their highest upside receiving tight end.

Crockett Gillmore, meanwhile, is their highest upside overall tight end, but he too is coming off of a serious injury. A 2014 3rd round pick, Gillmore flashed on 378 snaps as a rookie and then was Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked tight end in 2015 through 10 games, before missing the rest of the season with a back injury. That back injury carried into 2016 and he also dealt with shoulder, hamstring, and thigh injuries, which all limited him to 247 nondescript snaps in 7 games. If healthy, he has obvious bounce back potential. He isn’t a great receiver, but isn’t a bad one either (57/720/7 pace before injury in 2015) and is a strong blocker at 6-6 260. Best case scenario, he and Maxx Williams make a solid tight end duo, but both need to get healthy and stay healthy.

The Ravens also have Nick Boyle in the mix. He was limited to 116 snaps in 6 games last season, but not by injury, as he missed 10 games with a suspension for multiple failed drug tests. A 2015 5th round pick, Boyle was the slowest tight end at the combine and has averaged just 8.21 yards per catch on 24 catches in 2 seasons in the league (17 games), but is a strong run blocker at 6-4 260 and could earn a role in two-tight end sets, depending on the health of players ahead of him on the depth chart. A lot is up for grabs at the tight end position and Danny Woodhead figures to catch most of the balls in the typical tight end receiving areas. This receiving corps once again leaves a lot to be desired, especially for how often they pass.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line

In addition to losing two starters in the receiving corps, the Ravens also lost two starters on the offensive line. Unlike Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta, who are relatively replaceable, both offensive linemen are going to be tough for the Ravens to replace. Center Jeremy Zuttah is not an irreplaceable player, but the Ravens don’t have an obvious replacement for him, which makes their decision to trade him to the 49ers for a swap of late round picks even more head-scratching. Zuttah was owed just 3.5 million in his age 31 season in 2017 and finished last season 13th among centers on Pro Football Focus as a 16-game starter.

With Zuttah gone, John Urschel and Ryan Jensen will compete for the starting center job. Urschel, a 2014 5th round pick, made 7 starts at center in place of an injured Zuttah in 2015, but finished 31st out of 39 eligible centers. He’s been better at guard in 6 career starts there, but is an underwhelming option at center. Jensen, meanwhile, is a 2013 6th round pick who has made 9 starts at guard over the past 2 seasons, and now moves to center out of desperation. He was never that good at guard, but might be a better option at center than Urschel. Both players seem best as backups though, so center figures to be a real problem position in 2017.

Right tackle Ricky Wagner, who signed with the Lions on a 5-year, 47.5 million dollar deal this off-season, is also not an irreplaceable player, but he’s a significantly better player than Zuttah and the Ravens also don’t have an obvious replacement for him, so he’ll really be missed. He was Pro Football Focus 18th ranked offensive tackle last season in 14 starts. James Hurst, who has been their swing tackle for the past 3 seasons since going undrafted in 2014, is penciled in as the starting right tackle, but he has been horrendous in 16 career starts and is a very weak option. Unfortunately, the Ravens don’t really have another choice. Behind Hurst on the depth chart is 2015 undrafted free agent De’Ondre Wesley, who has never made a start, and 5th round rookie Jermaine Eluemunor, who is unlikely to be ready to start as a rookie.

The Ravens could move left guard Alex Lewis to right tackle, as Lewis has experience at tackle from his collegiate days at the University of Nebraska, but the Ravens don’t seem to want to do that. Even if they did, that would leave a hole at left guard that would have to be filled by either the loser of the center battle between Urschel and Jensen or by 4th round rookie Nico Siragusa, who would likely be overwhelmed as a rookie. Lewis, a 2016 4th round pick, isn’t that good either, finishing last season 61st out of 72 eligible guards in 8 starts. Regardless of who they decide to play where, left guard, center, and right tackle figure to be positions of weakness for the Ravens in 2017.

Fortunately, the Ravens should still get strong play at left tackle and right guard. Ronnie Stanley, the 6th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, was solid in 12 starts on the blindside as a rookie, finishing 26th among offensive tackles on Pro Football Focus, and could take another step forward in his 2nd season in the league. Still only 23, Stanley has a high upside and could be one of the best left tackles in the league in 2-3 years.

While Stanley is just beginning his career, right guard Marshal Yanda is in the later stages of his career. Yanda has been one of the best guards in the league for many years, but is going into his age 33 season and will probably start declining at some point soon. You wouldn’t be able to tell from his 2016 tape though. He did miss 3 games with injury, but finished as Pro Football Focus’ #1 overall ranked guard.

That was his 2nd straight season finishing #1 at the position and he’s finished in the top-5 in five of the last six seasons, since moving to right guard full-time (Yanda played some right tackle early in his career). Even if he does decline this season, he could easily still be one of the best guards in football. Stanley and Yanda make this offensive line somewhat respectable, but their issues at left guard, center, and right tackle will really hurt this offense. They finished last season 27th in first down rate and could easily be worse than that this season, with a weaker offensive line and no real improvements made at the skill positions.

Grade: C

Defensive Line

With their struggles on offense last season, their defense frequently had to bail them out. They finished the season 8th in first down rate allowed, which allowed them to still finish a respectable 8-8. Unfortunately, they also lost a lot on defense this off-season and have 6 new starters on this side of the ball, including two new starters on the defensive line. Former starting defensive ends Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy are now in Philadelphia and New England respectively. Both players finished above average on 631 and 487 snaps respectively, so they will be big losses. Guy was signed to a 4-year, 13.4 million dollar deal by the Patriots, while Jernigan was sent to the Eagles in order to move up 25 spots in the 3rd round because the Ravens likely would not be able to afford to bring him back as a free agent next off-season.

The Ravens did keep nose tackle Brandon Williams, who was probably the most important defensive lineman to keep. He has led this defensive line in snaps played for 3 straight seasons, playing 550 snaps in 2014, 727 snaps in 2015, and 639 snaps last season. A 3rd round pick in 2013, Williams has made 46 starts over the past 3 seasons. He fell to 22nd among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus last season, after finishing 10th and 8th at the position in 2014 and 2015 respectively, but is still in the prime of his career in only in his age 28 season and should have another strong season in 2017. He might have been a little overpaid on a 5-year, 52.5 million dollar deal, but that was what the Ravens needed to pay to keep him, so it’s not a bad deal.

Even at 6-1 340, Williams is more of an every down player than a true nose tackle, hence why he keeps leading this defensive line in snaps, but the Ravens completely lack another proven veteran on the line and need young players to step up. The Ravens have spent a whopping 5 draft picks in the 3rd and 4th rounds on defensive lineman over their last 4 drafts, but their best young defensive lineman might be 2016 undrafted free agent Michael Pierce, who finished 4th on this defensive line in snaps played as a rookie with 375 and finished 12th among 3-4 defensive ends on Pro Football Focus. The 6-0 339 pounder is just a base package player, but is probably locked into a larger role for 2017, given how well he played the run as a rookie. He’s still unproven, but could easily be a useful run stuffer for them on about half the snaps.

All five of their recently drafted defensive lineman are still on the team, so they will all compete for roles too, with no other veteran options. Brent Urban is the most “veteran” of the bunch, going in the 4th round in 2014, but he has never made a start in 3 seasons in the league and played 151 nondescript snaps in 2016. The 6-7 295 pounder could carve out a role as an interior pass rusher in sub packages, but isn’t even a lock for the final roster. In 2015, they added Carl Davis to the mix in the 3rd round, but he played just 241 nondescript snaps as a rookie and then missed all of last season with injury, so he’s a complete unknown. At 6-5 321, Davis is best as an early down run stuffer, but, like Urban, isn’t a lock for the final roster. He could definitely earn a role with a strong off-season though.

In 2016, the Ravens added Bronson Kaufusi and Willie Henry in the 3rd and 4th round respectively, but neither played a single snap as a rookie. Kaufusi broke his ankle in training camp and missed the entire season, while Henry was a weekly inactive before being put on injured reserve with an unknown injury in November. Kaufusi was expected to have a rookie year role before the injury though and could be a starter now that he’s healthy. At the very least, the 6-6 285 pounder should contribute as an interior rusher in sub packages.

Henry, meanwhile, could take a step forward in his 2nd season in the league, but he’s a complete unknown and it’s not promising that he was unable to even make it to the active gameday roster as a rookie. The Ravens also added Michigan’s Chris Wormley in the 3rd round of this year’s draft and could give him playing time immediately. The Ravens have options on the defensive line, but it’s unclear if any of those options are going to be good.

Grade: C+

Linebackers

The Ravens also have a couple of new starters in the linebacking corps as well. Elvis Dumervil opened last season as a starting outside linebacker, but was limited to 272 snaps in 8 games by injury and was subsequently released this off-season, owed a non-guaranteed 6 million in his age 33 season in 2017. In his absence, Za’Darius Smith and Albert McClellan split snaps, but both struggled, finishing 92nd and 99th respectively out of 109 eligible edge defenders on Pro Football Focus, on 492 snaps and 605 snaps respectively.

The Ravens used a 2nd round pick on the University of Houston’s Tyus Bowser and he figures to have an immediate role. He’s pretty raw and could struggle with some of the finer points of the game as a rookie, but he is very athletic and should provide value in sub packages. McClellan could still see snaps in base packages because he’s an adequate run stuffer, but McClellan is a career special teamer who is going into his age 31 season, so Bowser will be an every down player before long. Smith, meanwhile, hasn’t shown much in 2 seasons in the league, since going in the 4th round in 2015, and is unlikely to have much of a role unless injuries hit.

Terrell Suggs remains as the starter on the other side, but he too is getting up there in age, going into his age 35 season. Suggs didn’t have a bad season in 2016, but was not as good as he normally is. He was a top-10 player at his position in every healthy season from 2010-2014 (he missed 8 games in 2012 with injury), but missed all of 2015 with a torn achilles and was not the same in 2016. He could continue declining in 2017. In addition to adding Bowser in the 2nd round, they drafted pass rush specialist Tim Williams in the 3rd round, who could be a long-term replacement for Suggs. He could eat into his snaps as a rookie.

The Ravens also lost starting middle linebacker Zachary Orr this off-season, after he made 15 starts in 2016. Orr was not tendered as a restricted free agent by the Ravens this off-season, but only because he was diagnosed with a congenital spinal condition that forced him to retire this off-season, at age 25. Now, Orr has received a second opinion and wants to try a comeback, but he’s now an unrestricted free agent because he was never tendered and can sign anywhere.

Orr may want to return to Baltimore, but it’s unclear if the Ravens’ medical staff is going to be willing to clear him. One way or another, I don’t expect him to return to the Ravens, leaving 2016 2nd round pick Kamalei Correa to start in his absence. Orr led the Ravens in tackles in 2016, but struggled in coverage and finished 81st out of 87 eligible linebackers on Pro Football Focus, so he won’t really he missed. Correa has more long-term upside anyway, though he was limited to 49 snaps as a rookie, so he is unproven.

CJ Mosley remains as an every down middle linebacker inside next to Correa. A first round pick in 2014, Mosley is one of the Ravens’ best defensive players and has made 46 of 48 starts in 3 seasons in the league. He’s finished in the top-10 among middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus in 2 of those 3 seasons and finished last season a career best 7th at the position. Still only going into his age 25 season, his best days could still be ahead of him. The Ravens will likely try to extend him long-term soon, though he is still under contract for just 10.33 million over the next 2 seasons on his rookie deal. He’s the best linebacker in a group that is not what it once was, on a defense that is overall on the decline.

Grade: B

Secondary

The Ravens’ secondary is their best unit on defense. They lost a pair of cornerbacks this off-season, but they’re arguably better in the secondary than they were last season. Their biggest loss is going to be Tavon Young, who led Baltimore cornerbacks in snaps played last season with 833 and finished 26th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus, despite being just a 4th round rookie. He tore his ACL this off-season and miss will the entire season, a devastating blow to a young player who appeared to have a bright future before the injury. Young likely wouldn’t have had as big of a role this season, as he’s best on the slot and was only playing outside down the stretch last season because of injuries to their outside cornerbacks, but he’ll still be missed. He was one of the best pure slot corners in the league last season.

Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright were their top-2 outside cornerbacks last season and made 11 and 9 starts respectively, with both missing some time with injury. Smith returns as the #1 cornerback, but injuries have been a problem for him throughout his career, especially in recent years. Smith was Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked cornerback in 2014 through 8 games, but then broke his foot and missed the rest of the season. The Ravens didn’t seem concerned, giving the 2011 1st round pick a 4-year, 41.1 million dollar extension the following off-season, ahead of what would have been the final year of his rookie deal.

That deal has proven to be a mistake. Smith didn’t miss a game in 2015, but wasn’t healthy all season and finished below average on Pro Football Focus. He was better last season, but still finished just 42nd among cornerbacks and missed another 5 games with injury. All in all, he’s missed 22 of 96 games in 6 seasons in the league and has never finished higher than 35th among cornerbacks over a full season. Smith is now going into his age 29 season, so he’s no spring chicken anymore and it’s very possible he never lives up to his potential. The Ravens have already restructured his contract once, so they won’t get any real cap relief from releasing him until after the 2018 season. He’s scheduled to make 17.5 million over the next 2 seasons, with cap numbers of 12.6 million and 13.1 million.

Wright, meanwhile, is now in Buffalo, but he wasn’t good and the Ravens upgraded on him and added to their depth outside by signing veteran Brandon Carr in free agency and drafting Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the 16th overall pick in the draft. Carr signed a 4-year, 23.5 million dollar deal, so he’s probably the favorite to start opposite Smith, but Humphrey was a high pick and could push him by season’s end.

Carr was once seen as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but was largely a bust on a 5-year, 50 million dollar deal with the Cowboys. He finished last season 50th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus, which isn’t bad, but that was his best season in 5 years in Dallas and the Cowboys were definitely expecting more out of him. Now that he’s gotten paid again, his effort could decline and he could regress again. He’s also now going into his age 31 season, so his best days are probably behind him. Humphrey was drafted to be his long-term replacement and could have the starting job sooner rather than later.

For now, Humphrey is likely to open the season as the #4 cornerback, even with Tavon Young injured. Humphrey is probably one of their three most talented cornerbacks, but he would be a poor fit in with Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr in 3-cornerback sets because none of those three are natural fits on the slot. They paid Carr a lot of money and Humphrey is really young (21 in July) and could use a developmental year. He’ll mostly provide insurance as a rookie, but could see several starts if Smith gets hurt again or Carr struggles again.

Instead, Lardarius Webb and Brandon Boykin will compete for slot snaps. Webb is likely the heavy favorite. He played safety last season, but finished 15th at the position and was a corner in the first 7 seasons of his career from 2009-2015. Webb was actually cut this off-season, but only because they couldn’t fit him under the cap and he was brought back on a much cheaper 3-year, 6.3 million dollar deal two months later.  Webb is going into his age 32 season, but he’s finished below average just once in 8 seasons in the league and is a natural fit on the slot.

Boykin is a natural fit on the slot too and was once one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league in the first 3 seasons of his career with the Eagles from 2012-2014, but they traded him the following off-season and he’s bounced around to 4 different teams since, barely playing for 2 seasons. It’s unclear why, though a pectoral injury did wipe out his whole 2016 season, but he’s healthy now and still only going into his age 27 season, so it’s still possible he could find his old form. For now though, consider Webb the heavy favorite for the job.

The reason Webb is moving back to cornerback is because the Ravens signed talented safety Tony Jefferson to replace him in free agency this off-season, their one big free agent addition. Jefferson finished last season 5th among safeties on Pro Football Focus, as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Last season was his first full season as a starter, but he’s not exactly a one-year wonder, as he flashed as a part-time player in his first 3 seasons in the league from 2013-2015, including a 2015 season in which he finished 18th among safeties on 756 snaps (7 starts). The Ravens signing him for just 34 million over 4 years was steal. He’s only the 8th highest paid safety in the NFL and could still get better in the future, only going into his age 25 season.

This was the second straight off-season that the Ravens signed a safety to a multi-year deal in free agent, signing Eric Weddle to a 4-year, 26 million dollar deal last off-season. That too proved to be a steal, as he finished his first season in Baltimore as Pro Football Focus’ highest ranked safety. That’s nothing new for him, as he was a top-6 safety on Pro Football Focus in every season from 2010-2014. The only reason he was signed so expensively last off-season is because he had a down year in 2015, finishing 33rd among safeties, and appeared to be on the decline, on the wrong side of 30.

Weddle proved his doubters wrong in 2016 and could easily have another strong season in his age 32 season in 2016. He will decline at some point soon, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he remained one of the top safeties in the league for another 2-3 seasons. He’s just the 13th highest paid safety in the NFL in average annual salary. Weddle and Jefferson are arguably the league’s top safety duo and both are bargains. That’s huge for a team that has had cap issues for several off-seasons. The Ravens at least still have a strong secondary.

Grade: A-

Conclusion

The Ravens look worse on both sides of the ball this season, after an off-season full of losses, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. They finished last season just 25th in first down rate and had 8 fewer offensive touchdowns than their opponents, so they’re not starting from a great baseline. A once strong veteran team that has struggled to develop enough young talent to replace the players they’ve been unable to keep under the cap over the years, the Ravens could have a tough year in 2017 and, at the very least, are likely to finish worse than last season’s 8-8. 

Prediction: 6-10, 3rd in AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-9-1) at Baltimore Ravens (8-7)

When both are fully healthy, I have the Bengals a little higher than the Ravens, as they rank 14th in first down rate differential and the Ravens rank 21st, but the Bengals are far from fully healthy right now. Not only are they missing wide receiver AJ Green and running back Giovani Bernard, who they’ve been without for a while, but they’ve also lost guard Clint Boling, tight end Tyler Eifert, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict to injury in recent weeks, a trio of key players. The Ravens aren’t fully healthy at this point in the season (no one is), but they’re in much better shape injury wise than the Bengals. I still think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Bengals as 1.5 point home underdogs, but I couldn’t be confident in them at all.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +1.5

Confidence: None

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Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)

I’m torn on this one. On one hand, the Steelers are in a better spot than the Ravens, finishing their season with an easy home game against the Browns on deck. Favorites of 6 or more, like the Steelers are here, tend to take care of business before easy games, going 96-54 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 6 or more again. The Steelers have also been great at home this year, going 4-1 straight up and against the spread in the 5 home games that Ben Roethlisberger started, outscoring opponents by an average of 16.25 points per game in the 4 victories and only losing to the Cowboys in a close 5-point game.

On the other hand, this is the biggest game of either team’s season, so I expect both teams to be completely focused, even if the Steelers have an easier game than the Ravens do next week. The Steelers are barely 6 point favorites any way and it’s arguable they are favored by a point or two too many. They rank 10th in first down rate, but the Ravens rank 16th. These Steelers/Ravens games always tend to be close anyway, with 16 of the last 21 matchups between these two teams being decided by a touchdown or less. On top of that, 10 of the Ravens’ last 17 losses have come by 6 points or fewer, as they have a strong defense and tend to keep games close. I’m taking the Ravens, but this is a no confidence pick. I’d need a full touchdown to take the Ravens with any sort of confidence.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Baltimore Ravens 19

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +6

Confidence: None

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Philadelphia Eagles at Baltimore Ravens: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

Much like many Ravens teams in recent memory, this Ravens team has a great defense, but an underwhelming offense. They enter this game 30th in first down rate, but 3rd in first down rate allowed and 15th in first down rate differential. The Eagles enter this game 26th in first down rate differential and very banged up on the offensive line, so the Ravens are definitely the better team here, but, with the line being 6, Philadelphia becomes a very appealing bet here because of the type of team Baltimore is. The Ravens have won just 3 of 12 games by more than 6 points in the past 2 seasons and are also without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, a big blow to this defense. Even though the Ravens are 15th in first down rate differential and the Eagles are 26th, there’s a smaller gap between 15th and 26th than there is between 8th and 15th, so these two teams are closer than that suggests.

The Ravens are also in a tough spot with a huge divisional clash with the Steelers on deck, a game in which the Ravens figure to be at least 6 point underdogs in Pittsburgh. Favorites of 6 or more are just 51-87 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs of 6 or more. With that huge game on deck, the Ravens could easily overlook the Eagles, who could pull off the win in a trap game. Even if they don’t, we’re getting 6 points with them and this should be another close game for the Ravens. If you can get the full 6, it’s worth a bet.

Baltimore Ravens 16 Philadelphia Eagles 13

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +6

Confidence: Medium

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Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at New England Patriots (10-2)

The Patriots are a very interesting team. Despite being without Tom Brady for the first 4 games of the season, they rank 2nd in first down rate. Since Brady returned, they are 7-1 with 6 of 7 wins by double digits. However, they have had a very easy schedule over those 8 games. Aside from Seattle, who beat them by a touchdown in New England, their toughest game since Brady’s return was in Buffalo. Yes, they can only play the teams that are on their schedule and they’ve done pretty well in doing so, as most of the wins have come by convincing margins, but Jamie Collins is in Cleveland, Rob Gronkowski is on injured reserve, and it’s fair to wonder how good they really are. We’ll find out a lot this week as they host the Baltimore Ravens, who are a step up in class from most of the teams the Patriots have faced in recent weeks.

After largely playing close games all season, the Ravens got their biggest win by margin of victory since 2009 last week, with a 38-6 home victory over a capable Miami team. It was out of character for this team, but boosted them to 12nd in first down rate differential and moved this line from 10 on the early line last week to 6.5 this week. As a result, we’re not getting good line value with the Ravens. However, the Ravens are in a good spot with an easy home game against the Eagles on deck, while the Patriots have to go to Denver next week. Underdogs of 6 or more points are 41-31 ATS since 2008 before being favorites of 6 or more the following week, which the Ravens are expected to be, according to the early line. It’s a no confidence pick at 6.5, but the Ravens are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

New England Patriots 24 Baltimore Ravens 19

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +6.5

Confidence: None

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Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens: 2016 Week 13 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (7-4) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

This line at 3.5 in favor of the hometown Baltimore Ravens suggests the Ravens are a slightly better team than the Dolphins. I think it’s the opposite. Both teams come into this game relatively healthy compared to most of the season, with the Dolphins getting left tackle Branden Albert and left guard Laremy Tunsil back this week, while the Ravens get cornerback Jimmy Smith back. However, the Dolphins rank 12th on the season in first down rate differential, while the Ravens rank 19th in that metric. This line should be around 2.5, which might not seem like a big difference from 3.5, but it is, considering about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. The Ravens are certainly no strangers to field goal games, as 4 of their 11 wins in the past 2 seasons have come by exactly a field goal. That makes sense, as the Ravens have a great defense, but a struggling offense. That’s not exactly a recipe for big blowout wins. The Dolphins are a quality opponent, so, if the Ravens win, it’ll likely be by a field goal or less.

The Dolphins are also in a much better spot than the Ravens, as they host the skidding Cardinals next week, while the Ravens have to turn around and go to New England, where the early line has them as 10 point underdogs. The Dolphins will be favored next week at home for the Cardinals and underdogs are 94-61 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs. On top of that, teams are 41-63 ATS since 2012 before being double digit underdogs, as upcoming big games like that tend to be a distraction for a team. As favorites, teams are 37-62 ATS since 2002 before being double digit underdogs. Combining the two, underdogs are 48-20 ATS since 1989 before being favorites when their opponents will next be double digit underdogs. I like the Dolphins a lot this week.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Miami Dolphins 16

Pick against the spread: Miami +3.5

Confidence: Medium

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Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (3-6-1) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5)

Already in the middle of a down year, the Bengals suffered two major injuries last week, as running back Giovani Bernard went down for the season with a torn ACL and #1 wide receiver AJ Green went down for an extended period of time with a strained hamstring. In addition, the Bengals will also be without starting safety Shawn Williams this week with injury. On the other side, the Ravens have gotten healthier in recent weeks, as the guys like Marshal Yanda, Steve Smith, CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs, and Elvis Dumervil, who missed time earlier this year, are all healthy now. They are now without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, but, all in all, they’re healthier now than they’ve been for most of the season. All that being said, I don’t have a strong opinion either way. This line, at -4 in favor of the hometown Baltimore Ravens, is pretty reasonable. I’m taking the Ravens, but it’s hard to be confident in them as 4 point favorites because I don’t know just how bad the Bengals will be without Green and Bernard.

Baltimore Ravens 22 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Baltimore -4

Confidence: None

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