The Baltimore Ravens have been on a downward trajectory since winning Super Bowl XLVII, failing to reach the post-season in the past three seasons.
John Harbaugh and his side reached the NFL summit in the 2012 campaign by defeating the San Francisco 49ers at the Superdome.
Joe Flacco produced a memorable run in the playoffs, producing an outstanding level of play to guide his team to the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
However, since then the Ravens have underwhelmed, missing the playoffs in four out of the last five terms, including last season when a late defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals saw them lose out in the final game of the campaign.
Baltimore have not been overly active in free agency to bolster their roster, although their receiving corps has been strengthened on their below-par unit from last term.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has invested heavily in defensive players in recent seasons and it’s time for those selections to bear fruit.
Even quarterback Flacco is under pressure for his starting role after the club moved back into the first round of the 2018 Draft to select Lamar Jackson.
It’s a vital year for everyone involved in the Ravens’ organisation in order to break the stranglehold of failure that has plagued the AFC North outfit for three years.
Flacco was excellent in the run to the Super Bowl, earning the-then most lucrative contract in NFL history. However, he has failed to play up to his deal, underwhelming in all but one of the campaigns since the triumph. The Ravens appear to have noted his struggles and they moved to draft Jackson with the final pick of the first round to apply pressure at the position. Jackson has a great deal of potential and was touted to be a higher selection due to his exploits for the Louisville Cardinals.
Flacco has had issues with accuracy and the recent rise of successful rookie quarterbacks could convince Baltimore to move on sooner than expected, although his contract remains an obstacle until the 2020 campaign. The veteran quarterback had had to contend with a number of problems over the last few seasons.
Primarily the health and quality of his receiving corps has been a limiting factor in his decline in production, although the 33-year-old has not covered himself in glory. His old targets Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith rose to the occasion for the Ravens. However, they have not be adequately replaced, leaving the offense to sputter in crucial moments.
The signings of Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead may address the issues along with the drafting of two tight ends in the form of Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. Alex Collins displayed a good burst out of the backfield towards the end of last season. Collins had potential during his college days and appears to be finding his feet in the NFL. Behind a strong offensive line, he could be in line for a strong season to ease the burden off his ailing quarterback.
The key elements of the Ravens’ defense are beginning to age, pressing the need for their young talent to come to the fore. Terrell Suggs could be in the final year of his career at the age of 36, although he shows no signs of slipping after recording 11.5 sacks last term. Matt Judon built off a steady rookie campaign to notch eight sacks, but more is needed outside of the linebacker.
Kamalei Correa, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Chris Wormley and Bronson Kaufusi need to start making an impact to justify their selections by Newsome in the top four rounds of the draft over the past two seasons. CJ Mosley has been one of the success stories, replacing the loss of Ray Lewis after the run to the Super Bowl. He has been a tackling machine and playmaker for the club, reaching three Pro Bowls in four years in the NFL.
Don Martindale comes into the role of defensive coordinator after Dean Pees left his role. He has been with the club since 2012, but faces a challenge to keep their defense stout in the midst of a transition. Even in the back end of the unit is far from certain even though Eric Weddle reached the Pro Bowl last year at the age of 33.
Brandon Carr is up-and-down on the field, while Jimmy Smith missed the last four matches of the 2017 campaign due to suspension. Marlon Humphrey had a solid rookie term, while Tavon Young flashed in 2016 before a torn ACL injury prevented him from playing last season. Martindale needs Tony Jefferson to be the glue of his defense with Mosley, with more expected of the 26-year-old in his second season at the club.
The Ravens are not contenders for the Super Bowl. There are far too many questions surrounding their roster to compete with the top three teams in the AFC Conference. Unfortunately for Harbaugh and his team, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in their division and block their path for a home playoff game. However, even reaching the post-season has eluded Baltimore in recent campaigns.
Looking at the AFC for 2018 there could be an opportunity as the Kansas City Chiefs are going through a transition along with the Denver Broncos, potentially freeing up a wildcard berth.
Although the AFC South is beginning to show signs of improvement after fielding weak teams for the better half of a decade. If their defense clicks it might be enough to secure a Wildcard berth after narrowly missing last term, therefore take them to reach the playoffs at odds of +160 with 888Sport. Take them to win over eight matches at odds of -118 , having done so last term.
They will need a lot of fortune to beat out the Steelers for the AFC North crown, although Pittsburgh have experienced injuries before to knock them off course.
The price of +450 with BetOnline is intriguing if the Ravens can get it right in the division.
A lot rests on the form of Flacco, who has to perform to keep his job as Jackson’s presence looms over his shoulder.
Back him to throw over 3,225 yards at odds of +100 and 20 touchdowns or over at odds of -125 , with BetOnline. Crabtree will be an important player for his quarterback this term. Take the wideout to have seven or more touchdowns at odds of -110 with BetOnline.
Baltimore Ravens To Reach The Playoffs
Baltimore Ravens To Win Over Eight Matches
Joe Flacco To Throw For Over 3,225 Yards
Michael Crabtree To Catch Seven Or More Touchdowns