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The Baltimore Ravens: an All-Around Nightmare Opponent

The Baltimore Ravens: an All-Around Nightmare Opponent

The Patriots’ place as kings of the AFC for the past two decades has overshadowed many other teams’ success. One of these teams is the Baltimore Ravens, who have just one losing season in the past 12 years. During these seasons, they have eight playoff appearances and one Super Bowl win. Even with all of this success, 2019 was the Ravens’ best season yet in their 24-year franchise history. At 14-2, they had the best record in the NFL, all behind sophomore phenom Lamar Jackson. Alas, as happened in 2018, Baltimore was bounced out of playoff contention in their first game.

Historically, this kind of playoff failure would lead to a team losing many of its best players, sending the team into regression for the foreseeable future. The Ravens managed to avoid this fate. Not only did they retain their key players, but they also managed to add additional stars. Could they be even better in 2020?

Offseason Moves of Note

Prioritizing Defense
The Baltimore Ravens: an All-Around Nightmare Opponent
Judon had 9.5 sacks in 2019, and he’ll have an even easier time getting to the quarterback with Baltimore’s defensive line acquisitions. Image courtesy of Andy Lyons, Getty Images.

Baltimore was the number one scoring offense in 2019, as well as second in total yards. So, they set their sights on their defense in the off-season. That isn’t to say their defense is a weak point – they allowed the third-fewest points and the fourth-fewest yards last year. But, their defensive line ranked a middling 14th in pass rush win rate. Baltimore’s first move to remedy this was putting in the extra effort to hold onto Matthew Judon by using their franchise tag on him. Then, they acquired Calais Campbell from Jacksonville for just a fifth-round pick. Finally, they signed defensive end Derek Wolfe to complement Campbell on the opposite edge of the line. Just like that, the Ravens now have one of the more frightening defensive lines in football. Not to mention their top-notch defensive backs that can lock down even the best of receivers.

Inability to Acquire Receivers

Offensively, little changed for the Ravens. Right guard Marshall Yanda, who was on the Ravens for the entirety of his 13-year career, retired in the offseason. However, Baltimore acquired D.J. Fluker to fill that hole. Their offensive line ranked second in pass block win rate in 2019 and should have another stellar season this year. The one part of the Ravens’ offense that remains weak is their wide receivers. Last season, Lamar targeted his tight ends more than his receivers. At just 180 targets, the Ravens’ wideouts were the least targeted receiver group in the league. Lamar was able to make do in 2019, finishing as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and earning MVP. However, expect his lack of receivers to catch up with him in 2020, leading to regression for Lamar.

2020 Prediction

The Baltimore Ravens: an All-Around Nightmare Opponent
Lamar proved his doubters wrong with a breakout MVP season in 2019. Can he repeat this performance in 2020? Image courtesy of Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press.

The Ravens improved a lot this off-season. However, so did the rest of their division. The Browns made a myriad of moves, and Big Ben will be returning to the Steelers. That being said, outside of games against the Chiefs and Cowboys (both of which are home games), Baltimore’s schedule doesn’t look very difficult. Based on 2019 records, the Ravens have the easiest schedule of any team by far. Their opponents had an average winning percentage of .438, way below the next highest at .457. Outside of divisional matchups and the aforementioned games against elite teams, Baltimore could also drop a game in some of their intermediate games (@Texans, @Colts, @Eagles). However, the Ravens should be headed for another fantastic season. While their offense will probably take a step back from its 33.2 points per game in 2019, which was 12th-most of all time, their defense should take a step forward. Expect Baltimore to go 13-3, and secure the number one seed in the AFC for the second straight season. Their lack of receiving threats makes their Super Bowl chances iffy, but it is very unlikely they go one-and-done in the playoffs for the third straight season.

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