Baltimore RavensRead the introduction here
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San Francisco 49ers tomorrow
2011 Record: 12-4
Key Acquisitions: Corey Graham, Jacoby Jones, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Ryan McBean, Kelechi Osemele, Courtney Upshaw, Bobbie Williams
Key Departures: Chris Carr, Lee Evans, Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Brandon McKinney, Haruki Nakamura, Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski
This team finally got over the hump for the first time in John Harbaugh's tenure and won the division. The defense was great as usual, but the offense stepped up greatly. Joe Flacco had a really good year and in the AFC Championship Game, went toe to toe with Tom Brady and played at his level. Some may argue that he outplayed Tom Terrific. When it comes to the wide receivers, this team is thin, but still pretty good. The offense should be much better than you would expect. The defense was yet another classic Ravens, but the biggest story going into this year is that Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon and while he should be out for the season, he claims that he'll be back in November but he won't be. They'll miss him, but their defensive scheme is so good that almost anyone can be plugged in there.
Joe Flacco spent his offseason saying that he is the best quarterback in the NFL. While he obviously didn't mean it to be cocky, he isn't. He certainly is very good though. He also proved in 2011 that he is reliable. He does have one of the strongest arms, if not the strongest, in the NFL. The deep pass isn't the issue with him, it's his decision making. It can be bad at times, but it improved last year. Major step forward for him.
Ray Rice has consistently been one of the best backs in the league, and for that reason I do consider him to be the best. He has great speed, but can also overpower guys with his big frame. He's also a lethal receiver because of his great hands. He is Flacco's #1 target and the QB knows how to find him on the quick dump offs, and they usually turn into big plays.
Anquan Boldin is good, but not as good as the Ravens expected when they traded for him. He's still fine and might even have his breakout Ravens season. Torrey Smith emerged as a legitimate deep target last season and played injured, so he has a great chance to improve. Hopefully, the other young guys will step up, because they are the only guys left in the receiving corps. Either Tandon Doss or LaQuan Williams will have to step up and be the third option. Williams was decent in a replacement role last year.
Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are the tight ends, and neither of them are very good. Once Todd Heap left, it created a whole that has yet to be filled by either of these guys. They need to step it up.
Bryant McKinnie has always been really inconsistent, so no one has any idea what he'll do. They lost Ben Grubbs, but have three people lined up to possibly take over his left guard spot, so at least one of them will be solid. Matt Birk is great, or at least he was. He's now 36, but he'll be fine. The impressive Marshal Yanda should continue his great blocking. Michael Oher was terrible last year. He was pretty good before that, so I'll blame the lockout.
Haloti Ngata causes havoc on the defensive end. He was amazing last year, and I remember saying that he deserved Defensive Player of the Year just based on his performance at the beginning of the year. He was awesome. Terrence Cody is a large individual. Pernell McPhee was okay at rushing the passer.
Ray Lewis is still Ray Lewis. He never slows down, so I can't predict him to stop being great. I'll believe that he's old when I see it. Jameel McClain isn't that bad. He's actually really good and does a very nice job at stuffing the run. Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw will shine as great pass rushers. Upshaw has massive upside and was a very good second round pick.
Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb form a very good tandem along the sidelines. Smith was only a rookie last year and he got better as the year went along. Webb is extremely underrated and is a great corner. Ed Reed will somehow end up with a lot of interceptions and a lot of backwards passes. It's inevitable.
Billy Cundiff got cut during training camp, but it's obviously for this. No one believes that the Ravens think that Justin Tucker is a better kicker. Just that Justin Tucker never did this. What is this you ask? Oh just a really clutch kick that he missed that would have sent the AFC Championship Game into overtime. Okay, I'm done. Sam Koch was good last year. Adding Jacoby Jones is a major boost to this special teams, and Lardarius Webb is a good kick returner himself.
11-5, 1st in AFC North