Fresh off their bye week, the Ravens are preparing to face the Steelers in what is very much a high-stakes divisional showdown.
The first half of Baltimore’s season has been a bit maligned, to say the least, but the Ravens are in solid shape. The Ravens boast a 5-1 record on the season, are tied for the second in the NFL in point differential at +75, and rank eighth in overall scoring. Furthermore, their defense ranks first in the NFL in points allowed and seventh in forced turnovers.
However, despite all of this, there is uncertainty about what lies ahead for the remainder of the season. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some predictions for what the second half of 2020 will bring about for the Ravens.
1) Eric DeCosta makes another move
If we’ve learned one thing about Eric DeCosta during his short tenure as the Ravens general manager thus far, it’s that he’s about as proactive of an executive as they come. Through a handful of trades and acquisitions over the last year-and-a-half, it’s clear that DeCosta is willing to take chances and effectively analyzes this team’s strengths and weaknesses.
At the trade deadline in 2019, the headliner move of perhaps the entire NFL was the Ravens acquring CB Marcus Peters from the Rams. It only cost a fifth-round draft pick and Kenny Young to do so, which immediately proved to be tremendous value. Since joining the Ravens, Peters has played at a high level — earning himself an All-Pro and Pro Bowl nod.
Over the summer, DeCosta acquired another elite talent in Calais Campbell from the Jaguars, which again cost only a fifth-round pick. And of course more recently, the Ravens landed DE Yannick Ngaouke in a trade with the Vikings last week.
What do these moves tell us about DeCosta? He’s savvy and isn’t afraid to swing for the fences. Therefore, with the trade deadline less than a week away as of writing this, it wouldn’t come as a shock at all if “EDC” has another trick up his sleeve.
The Ravens recently added veteran Dez Bryant into the mix at wide receiver, but the position still remains the biggest hole on the roster. Could DeCosta look to pull off a trade for a bonafide WR1 like Allen Robinson? Or add a established veteran wideout like Marvin Jones Jr. or Alshon Jeffery? Nothing appears to be out of the picture. DeCosta could also look to add another pass-catcher at the tight end position, or sure up the offensive line by acquiring a veteran guard.
Who knows, maybe the Ravens are comfortable with their current personnel and stand pat instead of risking further capital. I’d be willing to bet that DeCosta pulls some additional strings, though.
2) The Ravens make scoring history
Ahead of this week’s matchup against the Steelers, the Ravens are one game away from tying an impressive NFL record. The threshold in question is the most consecutive games in which a team scores 20 or more points. This record is currently held by the Broncos, who scored 20+ points in 30 straight games between 2012 and 2014.
Should the Ravens manage to score 20 points against Pittsburgh in Week 8 and do so again versus the Patriots the following week, they would then break the record. I believe this will happen, and would go as far as to say the streak could last the entire regular season.
Much has been made about Baltimore’s offensive struggles this season. Last year’s historic rushing attack hasn’t been quite as dominant in 2020. Lamar Jackson appears to be falling a bit short of the lofty MVP standards he set for himself last season, and the passing attack overall has been inconsistent and lacked explosion.
Losing Marshal Yanda, Hayden Hurst, and Seth Roberts has evidently brought about some offensive growing pains. However, even during the “rough” offensive stretch through Week 7, the Ravens still rank Top-10 in the NFL in points per game at just a shade under 30.0.
The defense deserves some credit for this number, as they’ve been responsible for three touchdowns on the season and have routinely given Jackson and company good field position off a turnovers. This should be considered a positive, though, and isn’t likely to change — especially following the addition of Yannick Ngaouke.
I envision the offense smoothing over some of their inefficiencies as the season progresses during the second half. This, combined with continued high-level play from the defense, will give the Ravens a good shot to continue pouring in 20+ points regularly.
Of course, this entire prediction could be thrown out of the window if the Ravens score less than the 20-point mark against the Steelers in a few days but hey, positive pixels only.
3) The Ravens don’t repeat as AFC North champions
This was essentially a consensus prediction from everyone before the season. However, the performance of the Steelers and Browns in the first half of the year have made the AFC North far more clouded and competitive than originally thought.
Cleveland sits at 5-2 heading into the midseason stretch and have shown legitimate growth offensively under first-year HC Kevin Stefanski. They’re likely to be in good position to make the postseason for the first time in, well, forever, should they maintain their current track.
Should the Browns make the playoffs this season, it’s likely to come via a Wild Card spot. Their two losses this year have come at the hands of the Ravens and Steelers, which puts them at a significant disadvantage for tiebreaker purposes. They’ve also been outscored by Baltimore and Pittsburgh by a combined 76-13 in two games.
Still, given they currently have the same number of wins as the Ravens and are just one win behind the Steelers, a division title is not entirely out of the question. Cleveland is not the team to be worried about, here, though. At 6-0, it’s the Steelers who currently in the driver’s seat to win the division.
A pair of upcoming matchups in November between the Ravens and Steelers will prove crucial in the standings further down the line. It’s hard not to envision a 1-1 split between them, which puts each team’s remaining schedule in greater focus. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Pittsburgh’s second-half schedule, on paper, is pretty light all things considered.
The Steelers remaining non-Ravens opponents include the Bengals (x2), Cowboys, Washington, Jaguars, Bills, Colts, and Browns. Of this group, only the latter three currently have winning records. Pittsburgh faces a slew of significantly inferior opponents in Dallas, Washington, Cincinnati and Jacksonville, who currently have a combined record of 4-16-1.
It’s worth noting that the Ravens also play the Cowboys, Jaguars, and Giants, who are just 1-6 on the year themselves. Both teams still have to play the Colts, Bengals, and Browns, too, but the biggest difference is is Tennessee. The Steelers already played the Titans in Week 7 and won, whereas the Titans are still on Baltimore’s schedule — and represent their most difficult remaining task.
Neither team’s remaining schedule is particularly challenging on paper, but the Steelers already have a game-up on the Ravens in the standings. The best-case scenario for Baltimore is a series sweep of Pittsburgh or the Steelers slip up and lose a game or two that they should win, but neither of those scenarios seems very plausible at the moment.
Thus, it appears likely that the Ravens may cede the division crown to the Steelers for the first time since 2018, which will set them up for a Wild Card berth.
4) The Ravens win multiple playoff games
So, the Ravens don’t win the AFC North — is this the end of the world? No, and in fact such a scenario could ultimately prove to be a good thing.
The attendance proximity in NFL stadiums could increase come January but as it currently stands, homefield advantage has never been less significant than this season. Playing in the comfort of your home stadium and avoiding travel in the postseason are certainly beneficial, but it’s the crowd noise and atmosphere that often proves most impactful.
If the Ravens wind up being a wild card team, they may not have to face the same uphill conditions that would normally come with that title in the playoffs. Also, as we saw last season, being in the driver’s seat in the AFC did not actually work in the Ravens favor.
As the No. 1 overall seed in the conference, the Ravens essentially had two weeks of rest leading up the divisional round matchup with Tennessee. The result was that they came out flat and lacked any sort of momentum. The switch could be flipped this time around.
Assuming the division race goes down to the wire, the Ravens will not be resting their starters in Week 17 or coasting towards the end of the season. Instead, they can use these games as legitimate tune-ups for postseason play. Not having the weight of riding a 12-game win streak into the playoffs on their shoulders could prove beneficial.
Lamar Jackson is 0-2 in his young postseason career. He’s obviously hungry to change this and alter the perception that he, along with this Ravens team, cannot show up when the stage is the biggest and the lights are the brightest. The Ravens have not won a playoff game since 2014 and this youthful core has another year of experience under their belt.
It’s not bold enough to stop with just one playoff win, so I’ll go out on a limb and say the Ravens will advance to the AFC Championship. Avoiding the Chiefs in the second round of the playoffs is somewhat paramount to this prediction, so fingers crossed.
I’m not quite ambitious enough to predict an appearance in the Super Bowl. However, if you’re reading this and disagree, share your thoughts in the comments and join in on the conversation!