The Ravens enter 2018 in a make or break year for John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco. They’ve missed the playoffs now three years in a row after Harbaugh led them to the playoffs 6 of his first 7 seasons and won a Super Bowl during that run. There is arguably no team in the NFL with a bigger sense of urgency to get off to a hot start than this team.
They finished last season on a 5-2 run but a 9-7 record wasn’t good enough to get them into the playoffs. If you remember Week 17 at all last season, they were a Bengals miracle touchdown away from making the playoffs. Two weeks prior to that they lost a heartbreaker at Pittsburgh 39-38 in a game they led by 11 in the 3rd quarter. Without those two losses this could’ve been a team who went 7-0 down the stretch and 11-5 on the year playing solid football going into the postseason.
Their schedule during that seven game stretch wasn’t the toughest but their roster was also not as good as the one they’ve put together for 2018 – on offense they added Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown. This is arguably the fastest offense John Harbaugh has had to work with in his tenure and Crabtree is one of the best redzone receivers in the NFL. Last year their leading receiver was Benjamin Watson with 61 receptions and 522 yards. They return all eleven defensive starters from a team that was #1 in the NFL in takeaways with 34 (Jacksonville had 33) and they get their best cornerback Jimmy Smith back from injury. Smith will play on the opposite side of CB Marlon Humphrey who played very well in his rookie season in big snaps when Smith got hurt. Eric Weddle at safety is a solid anchor to the defense and the front 7 is as good as it gets with Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosley, and Brandon Williams up front.
Joe Flacco has had a few really sloppy years that was due to either after effects of injuries or just simply complacency that Ryan Mallett was the best quarterback behind him. With Lamar Jackson coming in Flacco will either have to raise his game or we will see the bigger playmaking quarterback under center. It’s a no-lose position for Baltimore. Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg says Flacco is moving better this year than he has in years.
Behind Flacco is RB Alex Collins who broke out a bit in his 2nd year last year – 4.6 ypc on 212 carries for 973 yards and 6 touchdowns. After rewatching Ravens’ games on NFL Gamepass it’s easy to see Collins’ playmaking ability jump out right away. There were times he would get jammed up at the line but that also wasn’t helped by the fact that the Ravens had a limited number of weapons to stretch the field.
The offensive line can be an above average group if a few questions are answered at camp. LT Ronnie Stanley had a strong year. RG Marshal Yanda is one of the best guards in the NFL. They have some questions at LG and C and training camp battles will dictate who fills those spots.
Overall this is a team with a proven head coach who knows they need to start fast out of the gate. With a strong veteran defense and a lot of added speed on offense, this is a team that can have a lot of betting value in September and later on throughout the season.
Ravens win total: O8 -140, U8 +110
Look ahead opening lines (from CG Technology):
Week 1: Bills at Ravens -5.5
Week 2: Ravens PK at Cincinnati TNF
Week 3: Broncos at Ravens -5.5
Week 4: Ravens +6 at Steelers
Circle Week 4 right now.