To this sports handicapper's shock, Peter King of Sports Illustrated had the Baltimore Ravens as his No. 1 club on the current team rankings that he just released. I think they are the most overhyped team and here's why.
Ravens As Well-Run As Anyone
When I was considering which team to feature in this story I thought about the New England Patriots (lost a ton out of its secondary; can Rob Gronkowski stay healthy?); the Denver Broncos (already has lost left tackle Ryan Clady, tight end Julius Thomas left in free agency and Peyton Manning might be breaking down); and the Dallas Cowboys (lost DeMarco Murray). But when I read King's list this was a no-brainer.
Perhaps I should trust Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome because he's one of the best, if not the best, in the business. There's a reason that Baltimore hasn't had a losing record since 5-11, the last year Brian Billick was the head coach, and has made the playoffs in six of the seven years under Coach John Harbaugh.
And the Ravens looked like a true Super Bowl contender once they snuck into the playoffs last season. They went to Pittsburgh and upset the Steelers in the wild-card round, 30-17. Sure it helped that Pittsburgh was without injured star running back Le'Veon Bell, but Joe Flacco really flips the switch in the playoffs. He was 18-for-29 for 259 yards, two TDs and no picks in the game. In the divisional round in New England the following week, the Ravens had 14-point leads twice in the game but lost 35-31. Tom Brady hit Brandon LaFell for the winning 23-yard score with 5:13 left. Flacco threw for 292 yards and four TDs but two costly picks. Justin Forsett ran for 129 yards.
So why am I skeptical about Baltimore? Not a fan of the team's offseason moves, but then again the Ravens always seem to lose key guys and replace them capably. The defense lost one of the best tackles in the business in Haloti Ngata (traded to Detroit) as well as linebacker Pernell McPhee (free agent to Bears), among others. The big losses on offense were deep-threat receiver Torrey Smith (49 catches, 767 yards, 11 TDs) and tight end Owen Daniels (48 catches, 527 yards, four TDs). I am not a fan of Flacco's pass-catchers now. Steve Smith is the No. 1 receiver, he's 36 and faded last season after a huge start. Second-round rookie Maxx Williams likely will replace Daniels.
The club was able to re-sign Forsett, who rushed 235 times for 1,266 yards and eight TDs during the season while catching 44 passes. But how realistic are those numbers? Forsett was plucked off the scrap heap and has been a journeyman in his career. He will be 30 in October and that's the magic number for when running backs tail off. The Ravens have no quality behind him after dumping Bernard Pierce. I don't think Ray Rice is coming back.
Perhaps the biggest loss was offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who took the Denver head coaching job. The Ravens set single-season franchise records in points (409) and yards (5,838), and Flacco set career highs in touchdown passes (27) and passing yards (3,986) under Kubiak. His replacement? Marc Trestman. Did you see that Bears offense last year when Trestman called the plays as head coach?
True, the Ravens will likely be able to beat up on the division-rival Browns twice in 2015. But the Steelers and Bengals were also both playoff teams a year ago. The Ravens probably are looking at a 0-1 start with a trip to Denver in Week 1. The Broncos are 4.5-point favorites on NFL odds.
Baltimore also has non-division games at Oakland (Week 2 -- probably a Ravens win), at San Francisco (Week 6), at Arizona (Week 7 on a Monday), vs. San Diego (Week 8), vs. Jacksonville (Week 10 -- likely a Ravens win), vs. St. Louis (Week 11), at Miami (Week 13), vs. Seattle (Week 14) and vs. Kansas City (Week 15).
Let's say the Ravens go 4-2 in the division, splitting with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and sweeping Cleveland. I see no better than a 5-5 mark out of conference. Will 9-7 get the Ravens into the playoffs? Certainly no sure thing.
All the books have Baltimore at 9 wins. The Ravens are +160 Bovada favorites to win the AFC North, +1200 to win the AFC and +2500 to win the Super Bowl.
NFL Free Picks
I think the Ravens are the third-best team in the AFC North. Alas that wins total probably pushes so if I had to make my NFL pick now I would go 'under.' No division or AFC title this year.