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Ravens News 9/9: Pivotal Season and more

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Washington Commanders v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

After a miserable ending to 2021, Ravens and QB Lamar Jackson prepare to begin a pivotal season - Childs Walker

“I’ve always been impatient, ever since draft night,” Jackson said, when asked if he’s feeling greater urgency to reach the Super Bowl. “But you’ve still got to take it a practice at a time, a game at a time, a week at a time. You can’t peak too soon.”

This season looms as a pivotal chapter for a team that made the playoffs every year from 2018 to 2020, led the league in victories in 2019 — and fell on its face last season.

“Every year that you have your franchise quarterback in place is pivotal,” said Hall of Fame wide receiver and CBS analyst James Lofton, who will help call Sunday’s game. “You’ve got probably a dozen teams that feel they have the quarterback to take them deep into the playoffs, and if you get there, the Super Bowl is a game away.”

So much comes back to Jackson, the alpha and omega of the Ravens since he led them to the playoffs as a rookie in 2018. His unmatched creativity gives them a chance to score on any play or win any game. But he grew increasingly skittish last year behind a patchwork offensive line that failed to protect him. His season was headed in the wrong direction even before it ended with the ankle injury he suffered in Cleveland in December.

“He needs to get back to the form he had in 2019 and 2020,” Lofton said. “That’s single-digit interceptions. You keep that number low, with their defense playing the way we expect it to play, you can win a lot of games.”

Kyle Hamilton Is Excited and Ready for Ravens Debut - Clifton Brown

Seeing Flacco in a Jets uniform won’t faze Hamilton, but anticipating his first NFL game is giving him butterflies. As the first safety (14th overall) taken in this year’s draft, Hamilton’s versatility is an X-factor for Baltimore’s defense this season, because it remains to be seen how many snaps he’ll play, and how he’ll be utilized in Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald’s scheme.

Veteran safety Chuck Clark had arguably the strongest training camp of his career and joins free agent acquisition Marcus Williams as the starting safeties on the depth chart. But Hamilton gives the Ravens the option of using more three-safety looks, a superb athlete with the potential to become a dynamic player.

“It’s been slowing down for me recently,” Hamilton said. “At the beginning of rookie minicamp, I remember (Head) Coach (John) Harbaugh saying something along the lines of, ‘The days are long but the years are short.’ Looking back on it, it’s gone by super-fast. We’re already at the season, already in Week 1. It’s come pretty fast and I’m just excited to be a part of it.”

“Everybody’s been saying it’s a big game, first NFL game, but the field’s still 100 yards, still 53 yards wide,” Hamilton said. “It’s the culmination of all the football I’ve played up to this point now. I’m actually in the NFL and it feels like I was just playing Little League.

“Playing the Jets, on Sunday, on 9-11, which is a very important day in our country, is going to be an exciting opportunity. I’m just ready to go.”

Gus Edwards on return to Ravens: “I’m doing great and I’m very close” - Michael David Smith

Ravens running back Gus Edwards missed the entire 2021 season after suffering a torn ACL, and he won’t be ready for the start of the 2022 season, either. But he doesn’t think it will be long before he’s back on the field.

Edwards, who has been placed on the physically unable to perform list and ruled out for the first four weeks, wrote on Instagram that he is getting closer to being able to play.

“For everybody wondering about my recovery I’m doing great and I’m very close,” Edwards wrote.

Biggest weaknesses of every NFL team heading into Week 1: Where do the Bills come up short? - Mike Kaye

Baltimore Ravens: Wide receiver

The Ravens don’t have a proven wideout on their roster. While Demarcus Robinson was a solid role player with the Chiefs, he’s not necessarily a surefire starter. Rashod Bateman has a lot to prove as the new top target at receiver for Lamar Jackson, and Devin Duvernay and James Proche will also need to step up. This is a more unproven depth chart than a bad one.

Week 1 NFL Picks Against the Spread - Sheil Kapadia

Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets (+7.5)

The Ravens have a lot of players coming back after they were decimated by injuries in 2021. But it might take some time for those returning players to get close to 100 percent. Meanwhile, John Harbaugh eased up on his practice routine this summer, so the team might not be especially crisp in Week 1 and early in the season.

The Jets, meanwhile, will be without Zach Wilson for at least the first three weeks. According to TruMedia, the Jets performed like the 30th-ranked offense in terms of expected points added (EPA) per play with Wilson last year. They performed like the 13th-ranked offense without Wilson.

It’s reasonable to think that the Jets might have an edge on both sides of the line of scrimmage here. Taking Joe Flacco to beat the spread against Lamar Jackson—what could go wrong? This pick feels so bad that they might take my column away next week.

The pick: Jets (+7.5)

NFL picks against the spread: Take Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield in openers - Vic Tafur

Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets (+7) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

Zach Wilson is out for the Jets, which is good as he was the worst of the four quarterbacks who played for them last season. Old man Joe Flacco gets to face his old team on what’s shaping up to be “Revenge Weekend.”

The problem is the Ravens’ secondary is pretty good, and Flacco is going to need a bunch of points to keep up with Lamar Jackson and his army of tight ends. Plus, John Harbaugh takes care of business in Week 1 — the Ravens are 10-4 against the spread under him and were 10-3 before he had to play the Raiders without any healthy running backs last season.

The pick: Ravens (-7)