Whether by choice or by chance, the Baltimore Ravens will enter 2017 the regular season with an unbalanced roster. Most of John Harbaugh’s teams have had relatively even talent on both sides of the ball. However, a large majority of this club’s top players currently reside on defense.
The Ravens have the necessary depth and personnel to excel in all three aspects of defense - against the run, in coverage and rushing the passer. Special teams are a strength, but the offense has serious questions on the offensive line and in the backfield.
This disparity provides a wide variety of potential outcomes. A truly imposing defense could honestly carry the Ravens to the Super Bowl. But if the defensive unit does not play up to their potential, it could be a long season in Baltimore.
The best and worse case scenarios for the 2017 Ravens ...
The defense plays up to their elite potential, allowing the Ravens to improve upon their recent road record in route to winning the AFC North division. Coordinator Dean Pees unleashes havoc with a terrific rotation of defensive lineman and edge rushers that stifle the run and hit quarterbacks relentlessly. C.J. Mosley continues to create turnovers and elevates the play of his fellow inside linebackers. The safety tandem dominates in the red zone and consistently neutralizes tight ends. Jimmy Smith plays a full season, and shuts down the best wideouts on the schedule. Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey thrive in man coverage. The Ravens defense leads the league in most major statistical categories, including takeaways and sacks.
Justin Tucker maintains his excellence, setting a new record for points scored in a season. Sam Koch turns in his most efficient season. Baltimore leads the NFL in blocked kicks and Michael Campanaro proves to be a legitimate weapon returning kicks.
After a sluggish start, Joe Flacco cleans up his technique, enabling him to overcome occasional bouts of inaccuracy. With the support of a dominant defense, he makes better decisions with the ball, cutting his previous interception totals by more than half. Receivers Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman combine to form a reliable group that excels on vertical pass plays. Maxx Williams develops into one of the best pass catching tight ends in the NFL. The running back committee keeps defenses honest and moves the chains in the fourth quarter to kill the clock. Marshal Yanda leads the offensive line, Ronnie Stanley takes the next step with a Pro Bowl caliber year and the coaching staff devises effective gameplans that allow the blocking unit to outperform the sum of their parts.
A 14-2 regular season earns the Ravens the number two seed in the AFC. After blowing out the Steelers in the divisional round, they go into Foxboro and end Tom Brady’s career on a sour note. Baltimore’s tenacious pass defense carries them past the Giants in the Super Bowl, giving the franchise their third championship.
The Ravens run defense remains a bonafide strength, but the pass coverage lets the team down. Pees fails to deploy his playmakers in an aggressive fashion. Because of inconsistent coverage, opponents abandon the run to utilize short passing attacks that wear down the Ravens pass rushers and put undue pressure on the offense.
Injuries continue to mount, with several preseason injuries hampering important players throughout the season, and a usually reliable player or two go down for the season at positions the team can least afford to take a hit. Compounding the issue, the injuries occur during the most difficult parts of the schedule.
The offensive line plays at a below average level all season, which has a snowballing effect on the entire offense. Flacco struggles greatly under duress and Terrance West proves incapable of shouldering the load. The older receivers show their age and the young receivers do not play up to their potential. Overall, the receiving corps fails to create separation and has issues with dropped passes. It becomes another season of inefficient offense, with too many turnovers, an undesirable run-to-pass ratio and generally ugly play. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is replaced by Greg Roman during the season. But even Roman is unable to right the ship as an increased emphasis on running the ball proves futile without adequate blocking.
The Ravens end the regular season in the AFC North cellar with five wins, extending their playoff drought to three straight years. A few veteran stalwarts retire after the season, leaving gaping holes on the depth chart. Frustrated with mediocrity, team owner Steve Bisciotti decides to clean house, replacing both the front office and coaching staff entirely. A highly leveraged salary cap situation forces the Ravens into an extended rebuild.
Which scenario is more likely?
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