NFL Trends: Ravens Appear Poised For Step Back In AFC North

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 5:30 PM UTC

Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2015 5:30 PM UTC

There may be no better general manager in the NFL than Baltimore's Ozzie Newsome, but how much longer can the Ravens keep losing key players yet continue to win? Let's analyze the free-agent moves. 

Baltimore Ravens
Obviously the Ravens would never want to give back their Super Bowl title from the 2012 season, but it came at  a huge cost: a $120 million-plus contract extension for Super Bowl MVP and quarterback Joe Flacco. Since that title and because of that deal, the Ravens have had to say goodbye to several key players due to finances, and this offseason was no different, and it has impacted their NFL Odds. The two big losses were very underrated defensive end/linebacker Pernell McPhee, who signed with the Bears, and No. 1 receiver Torry Smith, now a San Francisco 49er. McPhee, just 26, had 7.5 sacks, 64 quarterback pressures and 24 QB hits last season despite not even starting. He generally played behind outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, although at times McPhee would play with his hand on the ground at defensive end. Losing defenders to free agency is nothing new for Baltimore, which last offseason watched Arthur Jones (Colts) walk and two years ago Paul Kruger (Browns) and Dannell Ellerbe (Dolphins) leave for greener pastures. Flacco lost one of his top targets in Smith, who caught 49 passes for 767 yards and 11 scores last year. Right now your starting Ravens receivers are an aging Steve Smith and Marlon Brown. Also leaving was tight end Owen Daniels (48 catches, 527 yards, four scores). On the bright side, the Ravens were able to re-sign starting running back Justin Forsett, but was he a one-year wonder? In the wake of the Ray Rice mess, Forsett rushed 235 times for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns. That was by far his best season. I'm not sold he's legit yet.

Current Super Bowl odds: +3000.

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Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are one of those teams that rarely makes a big splash in free agency and this offseason has been no different. The biggest news was getting a new contract done for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but he was never going anywhere. The team lost linebacker Jason Worilds, who might not have been re-signed regardless but announced his retirement.  Worilds, 27, had 7.5 sacks last season, tying for the team lead. Pittsburgh also got a backup for star running back Le'Veon Bell in former Carolina Panther DeAngelo Williams. The 32-year-old Williams had 219 yards and a 3.5-yard average in 2014, limited to six games because of various injuries. The Steelers' need for a good backup was apparent when Bell missed the playoff loss to Baltimore with an injury. In addition, Bell could be suspended two games to start 2015 for his DUI conviction this past fall, which is something to keep in mind when making your NFL Picks.

Current Super Bowl odds: +3000.


Cleveland Browns
Your 2015 starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns is .... Josh McCown? That looks likely because of Johnny Manziel's off-field issues; plus the former Heisman winner looked largely terrible when he did play as a rookie. McCown essentially replaces last year's starter Brian Hoyer, who signed with Houston. Did the Browns not see McCown play last year? He was 1-10 with the Buccaneers. That hot streak in 2013 with the Bears looks more and more like a total fluke. Cleveland thought it had a deal to re-sign top tight end Jordan Cameron, but at the last minute he bolted for Miami. Cameron had 48 catches for 424 yards and two scores in 2014. The Browns are once again going to have a terrible group of pass-catchers with Josh Gordon suspended for 2015. The team did sign former Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline to a two-year deal. After solid 2012-13 seasons, Hartline  managed just 39 catches for 474 yards and two TDs a season ago. While that signing isn't very exciting, the Browns are getting a good player in former Packers cornerback Tramon Williams.

Current Super Bowl odds: +10000.


Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are another team that's often rather conservative in free agency, but I don't think there's any question that Cincinnati's defense looks better on paper right now than it did to close last season. That's because the team signed free-agent end Michael Johnson (Bucs) and linebacker A.J. Hawk (Packers). Johnson spent his first five seasons with the Bengals, then got big money last season to bolt for Tampa Bay. He was a bust there, waived after just the one year. Hawk, an Ohio native who grew up a Bengals fan, is a good run-stopper. Cincinnati hasn't lost anyone noteworthy yet.

Current Super Bowl odds: +4000.

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