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The Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs for the second season on the bounce as the club struggled against the quality outfits of the NFL.
John Harbaugh’s men failed to qualify for the post-season in the 2015 term, suffering their worst campaign under the tenure of the 54-year-old with a 5-11 record.
The AFC North outfit were unable to return the playoffs, despite an improvement on the defensive side of the ball, although Joe Flacco and his offense were underwhelming throughout the year.
The majority of their defeats came against sides that reach the post-season, suggesting that there is plenty of work ahead for Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome to retool the roster.
Baltimore are beginning to age on the defensive side of the ball, making an improvement from the offense, especially Flacco imperative in 2017 otherwise his and Harbaugh’s positions could be in jeopardy.
We’ll now take a look back at the last campaign to see what went wrong for the Ravens and what they will need to do to compete for a place in the post-season.
The Ravens were handed a test of their playoff credentials on the opening day of the season against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.
Bills coach Rex Ryan served as the club’s defensive coordinator for many years before leaving in 2009, with Harbaugh selected ahead of him as the Ravens head coach.
Baltimore were able to overcome a poor offensive outing from Flacco to notch their first win of the season as their defense limited Tyrod Taylor and company to just seven points, with Justin Tucker’s boot proving to be the difference between the teams.
The Cleveland Browns raced into an early lead in their contest in week two, but Flacco managed to lead a comeback, with the Ravens scoring 25 straight points to secure their second win.
Harbaugh’s men were then grateful to another fine performance from Tucker on the road as he fired four field goals between the posts, including one late in the fourth quarter to guide his team to victory.
The wheels came off the club’s strong start to the season against the Oakland Raiders. This time the Ravens were on the receiving end of a late comeback with Derek Carr connecting with Michael Crabtree for game-winning strike.
An underwhelming performance from Flacco and his offense culminated in their second loss against the Washington Redskins, which ended Marc Trestman’s tenure as offensive coordinator.
Marty Mornhinweg was hired as his replacement, although the results did not improve in back-to-back trips to MetLife Stadium, losing to both the New York Giants and the New York Jets to drop to 3-4 at their bye week.
An injury to Ben Roethlisberger offered the Ravens the chance to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers at the top of the AFC North. The Steelers quarterback struggled in their first clash of the season with Harbaugh’s men edging out their rivals at M&T Bank Stadium by seven points.
The woeful Browns were simply cannon fodder for Baltimore the following week as they romped to a 28-7 victory to move back above .500 in their season.
The club faced crucial showdown against the Dallas Cowboys in an attempt to stop the NFC East side’s offensive juggernaut led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Prescott put on a clinic in the passing game, throwing for three touchdowns to guide the Cowboys to a vital victory. However, the Ravens got themselves back on course for a playoff place by powering past the Cincinnati Bengals and then the Miami Dolphins in a crunch clash for the sixth seed.
Baltimore had registered huge wins over the New England Patriots in the past at Gillette Stadium, including their triumph in the AFC Championship game in the 2012 term.
However, on this occasion Tom Brady and company eased to victory, despite handing two turnovers straight to Harbaugh’s men.
The result put pressure on their match against the Philadelphia Eagles, which proved to be a tense affair. Carson Wentz led the Eagles to a late touchdown with the potential to tie the game, only for them to go for a two-point conversion and fail to score, allowing the Ravens to move to 8-6.
Baltimore faced a must-win contest against the Steelers and thought they had pulled off the feat when Kyle Juszczyk scored, only for Antonio Brown to stretch over the goalline with nine seconds remaining to eliminate Harbaugh’s men from playoff contention.
The Ravens have a number of key free agents to retain, beginning with Rick Wagner who has been solid player on the edge of the offensive line. The club will be in a battle to keep hold of the 27-year-old given the lack of quality starters in the NFL along with Baltimore’s deficient cap space.
The same could be said for defensive tackle Brandon Williams. Harbaugh’s men opted not to use the franchise tag on the 28-year-old, which could see him prised away from the club. He has been an incredibly stout force against the run and his departure would be a blow to an ageing defense.
Due to their lack of cap space, the Ravens are limiting on potential arrivals through free agency, forcing Newsome to deal through the draft. With the 16th selection they will need to add a pass-rusher to ease the pressure on veterans Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, both of whom are approaching the end of their respective careers.
The shock retirement of Zack Orr has left a void in the linebacking corps alongside CJ Mosley. Orr proved to be an excellent player for the Ravens last term, but a spinal issue forced the 24-year to end his career. There is not great depth at the position in the draft, although Newsome has had a propensity to pick out gems in the lower rounds in the past.
More importantly for the Ravens is to get Flacco back to his peak form. He has not been the consistent player that the club were hoping to see after he guided them to the Vince Lombardi trophy in the 2012 campaign. However, should he rediscover his clinical edge the Ravens will be able to return to the post-season.
The Ravens are a team in transition at the moment, although as the 2012 season proved that players approaching the end of their careers can help ignite a push for the Super Bowl.
Suggs took over the leadership mantle from Ray Lewis following his retirement after their triumph, and at the age of 34 he could be set for one last charge at glory.
Should he help inspire Baltimore’s defense to become the stout side they were during the 00s then there is a chance they can conquer the AFC, but they will also need Flacco to return to his form of the 2014 campaign at the least.
Backing them at 15/1 16.00 +1500 15.00 15.00 -0.07 with TopBet could be a wise option given their unpredictability in recent seasons, while Brady and the Patriots have to take a step back sooner or later.
Baltimore Ravens To Win AFC Conference
Odds: 15/1 16.00 +1500 15.00 15.00 -0.07