NFL preview 2017: Baltimore Ravens

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 1: Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens throws a pass during the third quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 1: Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens throws a pass during the third quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Ravens have had a rough few years the last two seasons, and there’s still a ton of question marks heading into 2017.

The Baltimore Ravens had a disappointing year in 2016, and, after reloading in the 2017 offseason, they’re gearing up for a run at becoming king of the AFC North with the regular season rapidly approaching.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the team to beat in the division, still holding the crown from their AFC North win in 2016 that led them all the way to an AFC Championship Game appearance. The Ravens couldn’t get anything going in 2017, finishing just 8-8 and earning a second-place finish in the mediocre division. Despite that poor record, it was still an improvement on their 5-11 year from 2015, which saw them battling huge injuries throughout.

Flacco is still a big question mark heading into the regular season after suffering a back injury this summer. His knee injury from 2015 has already caused problems in the past with a bulky brace on his leg, and it’ll be interesting to see how the back injury affects his game upon his return to the Ravens’ huddle.

Meanwhile, the team has a few new faces on offense for Flacco to work with, specifically with a different receiving group to utilize in the passing game. While the team lost Steve Smith to retirement after last season, they got a replacement by acquiring Jeremy Maclin this offseason after the star wideout’s release from the Kansas City Chiefs. Maclin will pair with Mike Wallace, one of the fastest receivers in the game. Look for Maclin to work out of the slot as well.

Then there is former first-round pick, Breshad Perriman. Maclin will be a good path to follow for a guy like Perriman still trying to find his way. He and Wallace round out the top three receivers for the Ravens, and their passing game will need to come in clutch if the team has any hopes of returning to the top of the AFC North.

The Ravens’ secondary is also another promising piece of their game heading into 2017, and it could help turn the team into a contender in the AFC. Eric Weddle will be huge for their defense, but the true key is the fresh addition of Tony Jefferson from the Arizona Cardinals in free agency.

Jefferson, like Weddle, will be very important for the Ravens defense, and Jefferson could help to switch up coverages for the Ravens. They got caught in some bad spots when using zone as much as they did in 2016, which contributed to their mediocre season, and Jefferson’s talent can help them utilize some new sets to work with on defense.

Teams like the Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will be a big test for the defense, as they can get a sense of how they stack up against talented quarterbacks reading their coverages in some big games. They play a lot of teams with some stars under center, whether they’re guys like Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota, but they also have the chance to play the Cleveland Browns (twice), Chicago Bears and Houston Texans.

The Ravens will need to adapt quickly to start the campaign, but the AFC North is as open as it has been the last few years, and it’s going to be interesting to see if they can take down the Steelers and return to the postseason over the next four months. If not, changes will need to be made once the next offseason rolls around, so it’s a make-or-break year in Baltimore.


With the Ravens’ receiving corps taking a hit this offseason with Smith retiring from the league, the biggest X-factor for the team will be Maclin.

Maclin’s speed will be a big factor for the Ravens, and he’ll be critical in getting Flacco back to his golden years in the league. He’ll have revenge on his mind, trying to prove to teams that he is still the talented receiver that he was viewed as for a long time, and could be in for a real breakout year for the Ravens.

On the other hand, Maclin may not be able to fill the void of a legend like Smith, and he may not meet the expectations of the team’s fans right off of the bat as such a big addition to the lineup from this offseason. It could go either way, but there’s a ton of potential for Maclin to succeed in his new home in Baltimore.

Best case

After two straight years of missing the playoffs with some lackluster seasons, there’s a lot of room to improve and not much worse that can go down in Baltimore.

The best case scenario for the Ravens this year sees Flacco stay healthy for the full season, along with bouncing back from his back injury rather quickly, and dominating with his new target in Maclin. They have a relatively easy schedule outside of their division, and really only have the Steelers to worry about in their journey to taking back the AFC North crown.

If they can get back to being the scary Ravens from 2014 and beyond, they can take down the Steelers and be a force in the AFC. However, even if they do take the division, it’s tough seeing them topple the New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders or even the Kansas City Chiefs in the postseason.

Worst case

Although it’s tough to get much worse for the Ravens this year, there’s a lot that could go wrong for the team in 2017.

Flacco’s injury history is troubling, and there’s a chance that things go from bad to horrible really quick under center for the Ravens at some point this season. Between his knee and his back, it’s tough to tell if we’ll get the same Flacco this season, and it could lead them to a worse year than 2015.

They’ve already lost Kenneth Dixon to a meniscus tear, and they’ve played through the worst case scenario involving injuries before back in 2015. If they run into the same troubles with staying healthy this year, the Ravens could be right back in that worst case scenario quickly once the regular season starts.

With the Steelers already gearing up for a run, and the Bengals remaining a hit-or-miss team, the Ravens’ worst case has them falling to third in the division, and likely out of postseason contention.

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Final word

There’s a lot of promise for the Ravens, and they don’t have a lot of expectations surrounding them from outsiders heading into the year. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t have high expectations for themselves.

They have a ton of talent to work with, some fresh new faces to help liven up the offense and defense and should be confident heading into the year if Flacco is at 100 percent heading into the season. If things get rolling in the right direction to start the year, watch out for the Ravens to bounce back in a big way.