Predicting the World Cup may not be my forte, but I know more about American football than soccer. Over the next 32 days (or so) I will be previewing all 32 NFL teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2014 season. This post is previewing the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens had just a .500 record and missed the playoffs in 2013 for the first time under the head coach-QB combo of John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco, and just one season after winning the Super Bowl. A drop in offense that saw the team fall from the 10th best offense in 2012 to 25th place in 2013 is largely to blame for the lack of a playoff appearance.
Despite throwing for the most yards of his career, Flacco threw more interceptions last year than any other year — 10 more than the next closest number — and the 2nd-fewest TD passes since joining the NFL. On the running side, RB Ray Rice had the worst year of his career, including having the fewest rushing yards and TDs since becoming the starter in 2009, despite starting all 16 games. The lone bright spot offensively was WR Torrey Smith, who surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his three-year career.
Since quarterback is usually the key to a team’s offense, Flacco needs to bounce back from his down year if the team wants to improve upon its 8-8 finish of a season ago, especially since Rice will miss the season’s first two games due to a suspension. The team didn’t add much offensive help in the offseason with no major free-agent signings and a draft that focused on the defense in the early rounds. But the Ravens are expected to get TE Dennis Pitta back into the fold after he missed most of last year with a hip injury, which may help them move back up the offensive ranks.
A rough schedule isn’t going to help the Super Bowl XLVII champs return to the playoffs, with tough road games against such out-of-division foes as the Colts and Saints on the docket. It’ll be tough to unseat the Bengals as division champions, and I don’t think the Ravens are good enough to get one of the wild-card spots in the AFC, so it’s looking like it’ll be a second-straight season without a playoff appearance for Baltimore. That would be the first time that has happened since the 2004 and 2005 seasons.