Heading into the 2018 season, John Harbaugh’s time with the Baltimore Ravens may be running out. The Ravens gave up a devastating touchdown in the closing seconds against the Bengals in Week 17 last season to miss out on the playoffs. Prior to that game, Baltimore had won five of six coming down the stretch and could have entered the playoffs with a ton of momentum. Instead, they sat at home watching the playoffs for the third straight year.
With GM Ozzie Newsome in his final season with the team, quarterback Joe Flacco approaching the end of his career, and Harbaugh on the hot seat, the 2018 season could be the end of an era in Baltimore. Do the Ravens have enough to make one last playoff run or will this season leave no question that it’s time for a change in Baltimore?
Oddsmakers list the Ravens at +5000 to win the Super Bowl. Compared to other teams with similar odds, the Ravens don’t appear to have the kind of upside that would make them a good dark horse pick. Baltimore is also projected to win 8.5 games in 2018. During Harbaugh’s tenure, there’s only one season in which the Ravens have failed to win at last eight games. However, topping the 8.5-win projection would mean this year’s team is just as good as last year’s team, which remains to be seen.
The biggest question the Ravens face this season is with Flacco. The Baltimore offense was unwatchable at times last year, in large part because Flacco struggled. He never quite found his rhythm and struggled to complete the deep ball, which is something he needs to do in order to be successful. Being healthy for the preseason after he missed the exhibition season last year should help. However, there are still questions about how much Flacco has left in the tank. There is also speculation that Lamar Jackson could take his job at some point if the team struggles.
To help Flacco, the Ravens have brought in Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown, three veteran receivers who should provide more reliable targets than Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin did a season ago. There’s also a chance that Breshad Perriman finally figures things out. The Ravens are also hopeful that Flacco can develop chemistry with rookie tight end Hayden Hurst.
Of course, with questions about Flacco, the Ravens will need a competent running game. Alex Collins came out of nowhere to rush for nearly 1,000 yards and 4.6 yards per carry last season. He returns this season with Javorius Allen a competent backup. However, the offensive line has some question marks at both center and right tackle. A subpar performance from the Baltimore offensive line this season could make it difficult for the Ravens to do much offensively either on the ground or through the air.
A year ago, it was the Baltimore defense that kept the Ravens in the playoff hunt, and with largely the same group of plays back this season, there are hopes they will have another top-10 defense. The key will be a young defensive line holding up against the run with help from middle linebacker C.J. Mosley. If Baltimore can hang in there against the run, Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon should be able to provide a strong pass rush after combining for 19 sacks a season ago. The Ravens also wouldn’t hate to see Tyus Bowser and Za’Darius Smith emerge as viable pass-rush options.
In the secondary, the Ravens appear to be in good shape. Baltimore is rather deep at cornerback behind starters Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, especially if former first-round pick Marlon Humphrey continues to develop. The Ravens didn’t quite get as much as they expected from safety Eric Weddle last season. However, he and Tony Jefferson should still form a solid tandem at the back end of what could be a top-10 defense.
Obviously, the Ravens are accustomed to their defense carrying them. However, if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt this season, they’re going to need more from Flacco and the offense. If the Ravens can’t be consistent offensively, finishing with a winning record and reaching the playoffs will be a tough proposition.
|Sep 9||Buffalo Bills||1:00 PM|
|Sep 13||@ Cincinnati Bengals||8:20 PM|
|Sep 23||Denver Broncos||1:00 PM|
|Sep 30||@ Pittsburgh Steelers||8:20 PM|
|Oct 7||@ Cleveland Browns||1:00 PM|
|Oct 14||@ Tennessee Titans||4:25 PM|
|Oct 21||New Orleans Saints||4:05 PM|
|Oct 28||@ Carolina Panthers||1:00 PM|
|Nov 4||Pittsburgh Steelers||1:00 PM|
|Nov 18||Cincinnati Bengals||1:00 PM|
|Nov 25||Oakland Raiders||1:00 PM|
|Dec 2||@ Atlanta Falcons||1:00 PM|
|Dec 9||@ Kansas City Chiefs||1:00 PM|
|Dec 16||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00 PM|
|Dec 23||@ Los Angeles Chargers||4:05 PM|
|Dec 30||Cleveland Browns||1:00 PM|
There’s no getting around how difficult Baltimore’s schedule is this season. They have eight games against teams that made the playoffs last season, including a brutal six-game stretch in which they have five such games. If the Ravens can stay alive until December, things lighten up a little. But they may not be able to win enough games early to make those games matter.
Week 1: vs Bills – Win
Buffalo’s offense may have as many questions heading into the season as the Baltimore offense. The Ravens do just enough at home to escape with a Week 1 win.
Week 2: at Bengals – Loss
After last year’s Week 17 disaster against the Bengals, the Ravens want badly to win this game. However, more 4th quarter mistakes plague them, as Baltimore loses a Thursday night game on the road.
Week 3: vs Broncos – Win
The Ravens benefit from the Broncos having to travel to the east coast for an early kickoff time. Baltimore’s run game keeps the Denver pass rush at bay, allowing Flacco the time he needs to make plays down the field.
Week 4: at Steelers – Loss
A Sunday night road game in Pittsburgh, good luck with that. The Baltimore defense is able to keep things close for the first half, but the Ravens can’t get anything going offensively. Ultimately, the Steelers have too many weapons to keep contained for 60 minutes.
Week 5: at Browns – Loss
Guess who overlooked the Browns? Cleveland was competitive at home last season, and with the Ravens losing a little bit of focus, they cough up a couple turnovers that swing the game in Cleveland’s favor.
Week 6: at Titans – Loss
A third straight road game turns into a third straight loss for the Ravens. Marcus Mariota breaks loose from the pocket long enough to create some big plays. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Flacco and company have no answer.
Week 7: vs Saints – Loss
The Ravens are void of confidence after three-straight losses, and Drew Brees capitalizes by hitting some big plays quickly. Once the Ravens fall behind, they aren’t the kind of team that can get back in games quickly, so this turns into a long day at home.
Week 8: at Panthers – Loss
The Ravens struggle to do anything against a stout Carolina defense. Meanwhile, Cam Newton and the Carolina offense dink and dunk their way to yards and enough points to beat Baltimore.
Week 9: vs Steelers – Win
You can throw the records out when these two teams play. The Ravens are beyond desperate after their recent struggles, and it shows in this game. Harbaugh makes some adjustments from their first meeting against the Steelers and they pay off.
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: vs Bengals – Win
Fortunately for Baltimore, the Bengals are not a good enough team to go on the road and win games. After a week off to lick his wounds, Flacco is fresh and has one of his best games of the year.
Week 12: vs Raiders – Win
The Ravens get another west coast team playing another early game on the east coast. Baltimore’s defense has more than enough horses to handle a sluggish Oakland offense and win their third straight.
Week 13: at Falcons – Loss
Unless everything goes perfectly, the Ravens aren’t winning on the road against a Falcons team that’s far more talented.
Week 14: at Chiefs – Loss
Late in the season, Kansas City quarterback Pat Mahomes has developed enough to out-play Flacco, who starts to look tired, as he struggles against an aggressive Chiefs defense.
Week 15: vs Buccaneers – Win
Facing a must-win game, the Ravens put their best foot forward and take down the Bucs behind another strong defensive effort.
Week 16: at Chargers – Win
After a long trip out west, the Ravens rely on their running game to grind out a hard-fought win against the Chargers that barely keep their playoff hopes alive.
Week 17: vs Browns – Win
There’s no way the Ravens allow themselves to lose to the Browns twice in the same season. Baltimore gets redemption for an earlier loss in Cleveland to finish the season strong. However, it may not be enough to secure passage to the playoffs.