It’s that time of the year again with the NFL season quickly approaching. Just like I did last year, 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 2015 season. We begin this year’s series with the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens came back from a .500 record in 2013 to improve to 10-6 last season, despite a controversial seasonlong suspension for RB Ray Rice, making the playoffs before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots in the Divisional Round. The core of the team returns this season as it hopes to make a second straight postseason appearance. With a new offensive coordinator coming in — former Bears coach Marc Trestman replaces Gary Kubiak, now the head coach of the Broncos — the offensive game plan could be different this season.
QB Joe Flacco had career highs in yards (3,986) and touchdowns (27) last season while cutting his interception total from 22 in 2013 to 12 last season. He was also sacked a career-low 19 times, thanks to an improved offensive line. With Rice missing the entire season, RB Justin Forsett led the running game in his first year with the team. In 14 starts, Forsett ran for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns, leading the Ravens to re-sign him to a three-year contract. Veteran WR Steve Smith Sr. led the receiving core, catching 79 balls for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns. Overall, the team’s offense ranked eighth in the league while the defense ranked sixth.
With the Ravens, I think the running game is key to their success this season. Forsett had a good season in 2014, but it was his first season as a team’s lead back so there’s a question about whether he can repeat his success this year or if last season was a one-year wonder. Smith Sr. is also a question mark, but that is more about his age than anything else — at 36 years old, Father Time is going to catch up to the receiver eventually. Flacco, of course, will also be a key to success for the team, but with no big-name receivers other than Smith and injury questions surrounding TE Dennis Pitta, Flacco could be hard-pressed to repeat the success he had last season.
So what does the 2015 outlook look like for the Ravens? Overall, the Ravens’ schedule doesn’t look too hard, although they open the season on the road against Kubiak’s Broncos. Other than their divisional games, which include two contests against a bad Cleveland Browns team, notable games on the slate include back-to-back NFC West road games against the 49ers and Cardinals in weeks 7 and 7 and a week 14 home matchup with the Super Bowl runner-up Seahawks. I think the AFC North is a two-team fight this season, between the Ravens and Steelers, and I think the Ravens have a good shot at winning the division this season after finishing in third last season.
Sources: http://www.pro-football-reference.com, http://www.baltimoreravens.com