Stan “The Fan” Charles
If Lamar Jackson remains upright enough to play in all 16 games, I see no reason the 2020 incarnation of modern football’s greatest offensive experiment can’t win 14 or even 15 games. Before last season’s playoff loss to the Titans, the Ravens’ offense was basically unstoppable and should be again. While I also expect the defense to be great, my breakout player is wide receiver Marquise Brown.
The Ravens will make the playoffs, and this season they will have a hunger that great teams have on their way to a Super Bowl, which is exactly where I see this team heading. I think the Ravens will meet the 49ers or the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers in Tampa for Super Bowl LV. And I think the Ravens will beat either team in Tampa, although if the Buccaneers make it, they’ll be the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
The Ravens go 12-4 and win the AFC North. There was a lot of talk this offseason about the Ravens potentially adding a big, physical receiver for Lamar Jackson, but that never materialized. As such, Miles Boykin fills that role becomes a solid contributor for Baltimore. On the other side of the ball, I think football fans will start to appreciate just how good Chuck Clark is.
The Ravens beat Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
The Ravens will go 10-6 and win the AFC North in 2020. J.K. Dobbins will be the breakout offensive star and Jaylon Ferguson the defensive breakout star. The Ravens will make it all the way to the AFC championship but come up just short to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Jackson is only 23, in just his third NFL season. There’s a lot more room to grow, and running back Mark Ingram II has seen it this offseason.
“I feel like he’s light years ahead right now of where he was at last year,” Ingram said Wednesday.
“He’s going to continue to improve, he’s going to continue to get better, he’s going to continue to be more confident in his abilities within the offense, knowing the offense, knowing the ins and outs and adjustments within the offense. He’s just continuing to grow. It’s special to be able to see it because I feel like he’s a million times ahead of where he was at this point at last year.”
“I feel I’ve grown pretty good,” Jackson said. “I do it at practice sometimes. I see things and go back and talk to my coach, Coach [James] Urban and tell him what I’ve seen. I feel like I’m getting very comfortable as the weeks and years go on.”
Headline of the Game: The Browns’ attempt to make the jump from a talented roster to results under a new coaching staff
Cleveland was supposed to take the next step last year and make the postseason. That didn’t pan out, as a step back from second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, a mid-season suspension to the Browns’ best defensive player, the worst season of Odell Beckham Jr.’s career and overall dysfunction led to a team that didn’t live up to expectations.
However, this team has all the components to realize those expectations a year late. The Browns added two new tackles to the offensive line in Jack Conklin (80.5 PFF grade in 2019) and Jedrick Wills (88.7 PFF grade at Alabama in 2019). They went out and signed Austin Hooper to a deal that made him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL at the time of his signing. Perhaps most importantly, Freddie Kitchens is out and Kevin Stefanski is in as the head coach in Cleveland. Last season with the Vikings, Stefanski helped orchestrate an offense that finished sixth in expected points added per play over the course of the regular season.
Cleveland’s defense is anchored by Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, and there is plenty of talent to work with on that side of the ball. You could have said the same last season, though. An opening game against 2019’s best team in the regular season is the perfect stage for Cleveland to show that it’s ready to compete in the AFC.
Do I think the Browns will improve upon the disastrous soup we witnessed a year ago? Yes, but it won’t come quick — and it won’t come Sunday against the Ravens. I cringe seeing Browns fans point to last year’s 40-25 dirty bomb dropped on Baltimore in Week 4. Total outlier. Cleveland coaxed Lamar Jackson into a pair of interceptions and pounced on a rare fumble by Ravens runner Mark Ingram. The turnovers made Baltimore look human in an eerie foreshadowing of the team’s January meltdown against Derrick Henry and the Titans. I don’t predict much carryover this weekend. With Baker Mayfield still learning his third offense in as many seasons, the decided advantage goes to the club with a time-tested head coach in John Harbaugh, two of the AFC’s most creative coordinators in Greg Roman and Don “Wink” Martindale, and a legion of veteran stars lodged in familiar schemes. It’s as unfriendly a matchup as one could devise for the starting-over-again Browns.
NFL Week 1 picks: Chiefs rout Texans, Saints spoil Brady’s Bucs debut, Bengals upset Chargers - Pete Prisco
The Ravens are the favorite in the AFC North, while the Browns are trying to get going under first-year coach Kevin Stefanski. The Ravens will again be explosive on offense, but the Browns should be good on that side as well. So which defense plays better? I will go with the Ravens, but the Browns blew them out in Baltimore last year. So be careful.
Pick: Ravens 24, Browns 20