Ravens QB Joe Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh

3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Baltimore Ravens

With another September approaching, that is an indication that the NFL season is almost here, meaning it’s time for our annual preview of all 32 NFL teams over the next 32 days (or so), followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2016 season. We begin this year’s previews with the Baltimore Ravens, who are coming off a third-place finish last season.

After winning 10 games in 2014, the Ravens only managed half that total last season, going 5-11 on the way to a third-place finish in the AFC North. Part of the drop-off can be attributed to injuries that caused the team to rely on backup quarterbacks to start six games, in addition to a rushing game that didn’t live up to expectations after finding success in 2014. In the offseason, the team tried to shore up its receiving core with the signings of WR Mike Wallace and TE Benjamin Watson. The Ravens also signed veteran S Eric Weddle to give the defense a boost.

QB Joe Flacco started just 10 games last season before suffering a torn ACL on the final drive of the team’s Week 11 game against the Rams. Prior to that season-ending injury, Flacco threw for 2,791 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In his absence, QBs Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Schaub each started two games, but all three were a drop-off from the production that the team got from Flacco. RB Justin Forsett couldn’t follow-up his breakout 2014 campaign with another season of good numbers last year. He was also limited to just 10 starts before suffering a season-ending injury, but he wasn’t producing before the injury. In his 10 games, he ran for just 641 yards and 2 touchdowns. WR Kamar Aiken surprised many people by leading the team’s receiving core with 75 receptions for 944 yards and 5 touchdowns in 14 starts. He was forced into the No. 1 slot after a torn Achilles that ended veteran WR Steve Smith Sr.’s season after seven productive games in which he caught 46 balls for 670 yards and 3 touchdowns. Defensively, the team ranked in the bottom third of the league in points allowed and yards allowed last season, with an NFL-worst 6 interceptions.

With Flacco expected to be ready to start the season under center, you can expect the receiving game to produce, especially with Smith returning for another year after originally announcing he was going to retire after last season — his season-ending injury changed those plans. The addition of Watson gives Flacco another weapon at tight end, with TE Dennis Pitta potentially facing questions about retirement due to a series of injuries he has suffered in his career. The running game is where the offense could see issues because I’m still not sold on Forsett as a feature back. I wouldn’t be surprised if rookie RB Kenneth Dixon, who the Ravens selected in the fourth round of this year’s draft, takes over as the starter by the end of the season. None of the other running backs are anything special in my opinion. The defense will have to improve to help the offense win close games. Weddle likely won’t provide that much of an improvement for the defense.

The Ravens should surpass five wins this season, with key pieces of their offense returning from injuries. How much better their record ends up will be determined in part by their schedule, which starts with two winnable games, at home against the Bills and at the Browns. After the Week 2 game with the Browns, the Ravens don’t play another division game until Week 9, when they host the Steelers come to town. That’s always a tough game for the Ravens, but it comes off of their bye week, which could be good timing for Baltimore. The team faces a Monday night game at the Patriots in Week 14 and ends the season with back-to-back divisional road games at the Steelers and Bengals, which is not how the Ravens want to end the season. Overall, the team has some tough out-of-division opponents that could limit their potential record. I’m projecting a six-win season for the Ravens.

Sources: http://www.pro-football-reference.com, http://www.baltimoreravens.com

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