Former NFL tight-end and co-host of FOX Sports talk show: Undisputed, Shannon Sharpe is making waves this week for picking the Baltimore Ravens as his team to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LII. This would not be the first time an ex-Raven has picked their former team to win a Super Bowl against all odds. A few years a go it was Brian Billick. The former Ravens coach and Super Bowl winner, predicted the Ravens would defeat the Seahawks in Super Bowl L and was off by a mile.
Baltimore would finish the year 5-11.
Undisputed has it’s fair share of bold predictions but this one seems to have caught significantly more attention. Is it even possible, let alone probable? YES. The Ravens have done a lot of moving and shaking this off-season and could surprise a lot of teams in 2017. Even if the roster is not made up of superstars, it is made up of household names. Those names may not be popularly recognized around the league but any Ravens supporter will tell you that this teams looks poised to do big things in 2017 and further.
3 Reason The Ravens Could Reach The Super Bowl
1. Strength Of Schedule
Baltimore’s schedule this year is fairly standard but there are only a couple of games that you could write-off as easy wins. On the 2017 schedule, the Ravens will face seven teams that made the playoffs last season. They had the same amount in 2016 and finished at a mere 2-5 against playoff opponents. If Baltimore hopes to make a Super Bowl run, they are going to have to do better against quality teams. Getting into the playoffs as an 11-5, battle tested team, would be a great result and would give this new look Ravens team a huge confidence boost going into the postseason.
This year, the Ravens drew a match-up with the AFC South; which has recently been called the NFL’s worst division. This year it has the potential to surprise a lot of people. The Texans won the division in 2016 with a 9-7 record but have a good chance to surpass that in the upcoming year. The same goes for the Titans who finished with the exact same record. Every team in their division has upgraded significantly and will be a formidable task for Baltimore instead of a walk in the park.
It should also be noted the Ravens do not tend to win by much. This means a ton of games will be last minute nail-biters. John Harbaugh’s team has a reputation for grinding out wins and it should be more of the same in 2017. Last season, the Ravens played in 12 one-score games; splitting them 6-6. The ‘Ravens way’ may be squeaking out wins but it would not hurt to go out and dominate in games they should win.
2(a). Elite Potential on Defence
The Ravens franchise has always been most known for their defence. Baltimore’s popular mantra is ‘Play Like A Raven’; meaning to play with intensity, strength, determination and character. When you put those two things together, along with a plethora of talent, you get a team that grinds, plays to the whistle with hunger and no fear.
That is why the Ravens defence has potential to be one of the leagues best almost every year and 2017 is no exception. The 2016 defence was one of the best in recent memory but this years squad may be even better. The Ravens ranked top 10 in each of the four major team-defence categories: points allowed, total yards, passing yards and rushing yards. Very convincing numbers for last years 8-8 team.
During the off-season, the onus was to keep improving the defensive unit as a whole. Of Ozzie Newsome’s seven draft-picks, five were used on defensive players: two pass rushers, two defensive backs, and one defensive lineman. This was because the Ravens had an uncharacteristically poor pass-rush in 2016. Baltimore finished 28th in defensive hurries and tied for 24th in sacks. But there has been a small defensive shift since the conclusion of last season. In are, top 100 draft-picks: Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser and Chris Wormley and out are, OLB Elvis Dumervil, DT Timmy Jernigan and DE Lawrence Guy. Guy and Jernigan were fairly important cogs in the Ravens defence. However, Dumervil had noticeably lost a step. He was becoming a liability due to his lack of production and durability.
2(b).An Improved Secondary
Baltimore has loaded up on secondary talent in both the draft and during free agency. The additions include options: first rounder, Marlon Humphrey (16th overall), veteran, Brandon Carr and former-Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson. These players provide depth at a position that as the season progresses, historically gets thin for the Ravens.
Jefferson should be a huge difference maker because of his ability to blitz and play in coverage. The support run that Jefferson provides allows Eric Weddle to play more in coverage and should add some more power to an already elite defence. With Tavon Young already being lost to a season-ending ACL injury, the additions of Humphrey and Carr seem even more important.
If Smith can stay healthy, the Baltimore secondary has a chance to improve. This is a unit that tied for the league lead in interceptions last year. The Ravens were Pro-Football-Focus’s 10th ranked secondary and look poised to improve in 2017.
Every year there is debate over if Joe Flacco is ‘Elite’. However, that argument does not carry over if the Ravens find a way into the playoffs. When the Ravens get into the playoffs, Joe Flacco has an alternate personality that comes. This personality is called “Playoff Joe”.
Playoff Joe has made one of the most impressive Super Bowl runs by a quarterback in NFL history. He has absolutely dominant numbers since 2010. Those numbers include a 24:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an average total QBR of 101. In that same time span he also has wins over, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger. If not for some less than fortunate circumstances at the hands of the Patriots (Billy Cundiff, Lee Evans, illegal formation), Joe may have even played in three Super Bowls by this time in his career.
But “may have” does not count for anything.
For Flacco, he just wants to get back to the playoffs and have a chance to thrive in the environment he is best in. Joe brings out his best when it matters. The Ravens just have to get into the playoffs, to have a shot at Super Bowl contention.