2014 NFL Preview: Baltimore Ravens

2014 NFL Preview: Baltimore Ravens

The 2013 Baltimore Ravens suffered from the Super Bowl blues. The defending champs missed the playoffs for the first time in John Harbaugh’s coaching tenure. Surefire Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were gone. Ray Rice looked like a shadow of the back that amassed over 1500 yards in four consecutive seasons. Joe Flacco, fresh off a huge contract extension, tossed a career worst 22 interceptions. The trading away of Anquan Boldin and training camp injury to Dennis Pita sunk the offense into a quagmire of mediocrity. The revamped defense took time to fill the veteran leadership void. What’s in store for the 2014 Ravens? Can they bounce back and return to the playoffs? Here’s a preview.

Outlook: On paper, the Ravens don’t look much different than the team that closed out the ’13 regular season losing back-to-back games by a combined score of 75-24. Their overall success will depend heavily on Flacco and Rice rebounding. The defense injected youth by adding a quartet of high-profile draft picks. Baltimore will never be rewarded style points, but they are experienced and well-coached. Terrell Suggs is still one of the league’s most disruptive pass rushers and veteran ILB Daryl Smith proved he has plenty left in the tank.

New arrivals: Ex-Panther Steve Smith will attempt to alleviate pressure opposite Torrey Smith. At 35, Smith has clearly lost a step, but he is surrounded by more talent than his last few years in Carolina. Owen Daniels brings 29 career touchdowns to the tight end position, but he also brings a history of injuries. Draftees C.J. Mosley, Timmy Jernigan, and Terrence Brooks should all receive significant playing time as rookies. Mosley, in particular, seems like a perfect fit in Baltimore’s vaunted 3-4 scheme. Fellow rookies Crockett Gilmore and Mike Campanaro have opportunities to find roles in a thin receiving corps.

Wave goodbye: Michael Oher’s fading star is now in Tennessee. The inspiration for The Blind Side struggled with consistency despite never missing a game in five seasons. Linebacker Jameel McClain was serviceable as a part-time starter, but Mosley brings a lot more upside. Tight end Ed Dickson never reached his full potential, so he packed his bags for Carolina. Safety James Ihedigbo parlayed a career 2013 into a two-year deal with the Lions. None of these departures will cause headaches; the Ravens’ front office excels at identifying suitable replacements, especially on defense.

Over/Under wins – 8.5: Every team in the AFC North should be improved. Besides divisional rivalries, matchups with the Colts, Chargers, and the NFC South fill the schedule. If Ray Rice can’t shake off a dreadful 2013 and his troubling off the field issues, the offense is in trouble. Flacco isn’t elite, but he’s not as bad as he showed last year. Barring a glut of long-term injuries, reaching 9 wins shouldn’t be difficult.

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