It’s August, which means the NFL season is approaching and 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 2017 season. We begin this year’s previews with the AFC North and the first team in the division, the Baltimore Ravens, who are coming off a second-place finish in the division last season.
After a disappointing 5-10 campaign in 2015, the Ravens improvee to .500 last season, which wasn’t good enough to make it to the playoffs. Recognizing they didn’t have much success running the ball last season, the Ravens’ biggest free-agent signing this offseason was RB Danny Woodhead, who is one of the top pass-catching running backs in the league. They also signed WR Jeremy Maclin to give QB Joe Flacco another weapon in the passing game. They also signed veteran CB Brandon Carr to help out a defense that already ranked in the top 10 a year ago. They focused on defensive players in the draft, including their first-round pick, Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey.
Flacco threw for a career-high 4,317 yards last season with 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Although he had a low touchdown total, it was a nice comeback season after an ACL tear ended his season early in 2015. As mentioned, the running game wasn’t good last season with a total of 10 touchdowns scored on the ground. RB Terrance West was the club’s leading rusher with 774 yards and 5 touchdowns in 193 attempts. Rookie RB Kenneth Dixon, who had high expectations that he couldn’t live up to, ran for 382 yards and 2 touchdowns in 88 attempts despite not starting any games. RB Justin Forsett did start three games, but he totaled just 98 yards on 31 rushes. An injury limited Woodhead to just two games, one start, last season with the Chargers, but he totaled more than 1,000 all-purpose yards in 2015 with 9 touchdowns and 80 receptions in his last full season in the league. Flacco’s favorite target last season is no longer with the team, as injury-prone TE Dennis Pitta was released this summer. WR Mike Wallace had the second-most targets and receptions on the team, with 72 catches for a team-high 1,017 yards and 4 touchdowns. With the Chiefs last season, Maclin played in 12 games, catching 44 balls for 536 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last two full seasons in 2014 and 2015. The defense was ninth in the NFL with 321 points allowed and seventh in yards allowed at 5,154 yards.
Signing Woodhead and Maclin should improve the Ravens’ offense, especially if Woodhead can come back from his torn ACL to play well heading into his first year in Baltimore. He can not only improve one of the worst ground games in the league but also provide a strong target out of the backfield for Flacco, as evidenced by his 80 receptions two years ago. The running game has already been dealt a blow early in training camp, with Dixon suffering a season-ending knee injury; they signed RB Bobby Rainey to replace him. Also on the injury front, Flacco has been dealing with a back injury in camp, but he shouldn’t miss extended time during the regular season. Maclin and Wallace should form a strong 1-2 punch in the receiving game, with Maclin likely being able to make up for the lost production following the release of Pitta, who accounted for more than a quarter of Flacco’s passing attempts last season.
The Ravens open the season with back-to-back divisional games, at the Bengals in Week 1 and hosting the Browns in Week 2. Their first of two against the Steelers comes Week 4 in Baltimore, followed by a cross-country trip to head to Oakland to take on the dangerous Raiders in Week 5. They get their bye in Week 10 before visiting the Packers the following week. Week 12 sees them host the Texans on Monday night. They visit the Steelers in another primetime game in Week 14, and then end the season with two home games, against the Colts in Week 16 and the Bengals in Week 17. It looks like the Ravens have a fairly tough schedule, and I think they are looking at an eight- or nine-win season, so right around where they were last season, possibly a little better, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to play in the postseason.