The season opener has come and gone, with the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers beating the shockingly decent Dallas Cowboys in the final seconds. Fantasy leagues have started, and fans of 32 teams have Super Bowl dreams and stars in their eyes.
I don’t care about those fans. I care about you, the Baltimore Ravens fanbase. Some of you, anyway. I care enough that I want to prepare you for the 2021 NFL season, and how it will affect the Ravens specifically. We’re going to go game-by-game, with some detours to talk about certain players.
You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to like it. You just have to read it. So strap in.
(Also, keep in mind, this was written before any of the games started [outside of TB/DAL] so I have no idea how any of these teams actually look.)
Before We Get Started..
Let’s talk injuries. This is always painful (pun intended). J.K. Dobbins. Gus Edwards. Marcus Peters. L.J. Fort. Justice Hill. All of these players are out for the season, and the season hasn’t even started yet (for Baltimore anyway).
Promising rookie wideout Rashod Bateman, special teams standout and proficient blocker Miles Boykin, and the NFL’s No. 1 blocking TE, Nick Boyle, are all on short-term Injured Reserve.
Jimmy Smith and Derek Wolfe are banged up, and considered doubtful – even though this designation no longer exists – for Monday’s season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders.
All-Pro Ronnie Stanley is coming off of a season-ending injury. Rock-steady Kevin Zeitler was banged up in training camp. Former Steelers player Alejandro Villanueva is learning how to move from left tackle, to the opposite end of the offensive line. This doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that Bradley Bozeman is moving to a new position, and the left guard position is still very much in flux – not injuries, but still worth mentioning.
Let me make this absolutely clear – this is in no way an excuse for what may come. I’m merely laying out the facts. These things happen in the NFL, and the Ravens are no different. Just look at 2015.
The NFL’s 25th-strongest Strength of Schedule.
Since injuries are a depressing subject, especially when it’s a list of starters, let’s look at some positives.
The Ravens face a relatively ‘easy’ schedule, when you look at the teams they face, and their 2020 outcomes. The Ravens’ strength of schedule ranks just 25th in the NFL, and while this statistic is largely a fallacy, it can provide a bit of hope. You could pencil in wins against floundering teams such as the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals. You can assume that the Ravens defense will smother the offense of the Denver Broncos, even if their defense is as good as the hype. As I said.. hope.
The Ravens lost one starting running back.. and then another. They pivoted smoothly, relying on their scouts to find guys like UDFA Ty’Son Williams, who has shown burst, decisiveness, and toughness throughout the summer. They signed veteran Latavius Murray to a veteran minimum contract – a guy who averaged 4.5YPC and 7.7YPR as a backup in 2020. Former Steelers star Le’Veon Bell joined their practice squad, and looks to be elevated quickly. Trenton Cannon will contribute mainly on special teams, but has enormous game speed. Finally, Devonta Freeman of Atlanta fame also joined the practice squad, and may be able to regain his legs in the NFL’s most run-friendly scheme.
The Ravens, looking similar to the 2020 San Francisco 49ers in terms of early injuries, also lost the most prolific ballhawking corner in the NFL, as Marcus Peters tore his ACL during the same practice that cost them Gus Edwards. Enter Anthony Averett, a better-than-average corner who Wink Martindale says has ‘Pro Bowl talent’. Obviously, Averett is no Peters. He is not without his issues, but he has had some flashes. They also have size/speed/strength specimen Chris Westry on the roster. Undersized TCU standout Ar’Darius Washington can take over the slot cornerback position if necessary, so there is no need to stick Marlon Humphrey inside.
Basically, these were a lot of words to say that while the Ravens are down, they are most certainly not out.
A Season Preview (We Hope).
Now that we have brushed over the good and the bad, let’s go game-by-game and try to guess what is going to happen and why. No, the Ravens are not going 17-0. No, they won’t have a losing record. Let’s get into it.
Week 1: Las Vegas Raiders (A)
Lamar Jackson is currently 2-0 in season openers as a starter, and boasts a perfect passer rating. He and the Ravens have outscored opponents 97-16, mostly with his arm (he’s completed 37-of-45 passes for 599 yards and 8 touchdowns against no picks in these games).
I understand that Darren Waller has blossomed into a stud tight end (I was once told that Maxx Williams was the better option for the Ravens to keep), and that Josh Jacobs has some serious upside. Derek ‘Denim’ Carr is an above average quarterback, and Henry Ruggs is so fast he makes fast people look.. not fast.
However, the defense is middling at best, and without Richie Incognito, their new-look offensive line will likely struggle without time to gel. I like the Ravens by a decent amount in this one, with Ty’Son Williams shouldering his new role, and Sammy Watkins having a ‘look at me’ game.
The Ravens roll on the road, starting off 1-0 after a tumultuous preseason.
Week 2: Kansas City Chiefs (H)
The Kansas City Chiefs have been the thorn in the foot of Lamar Jackson thus far – he’s only had a passer rating over 100 in one of these games, and that was back in 2018. He’s 0-3 against them since 2018, and his team has let him down in some very pre-Stefanski Browns ways.
At first, I had this penciled in as a loss. When Marcus Peters went down, I changed it to pen. I’m still not entirely certain of my decision, but since then.. I’ve changed it to a win.
Tyrann Mathieu being back from COVID-19 is a big deal for a Chiefs defense that has been above-average, but not much better than that. They also have a new-look offensive line, and I like Wink’s chances in taking advantage of that. Assuming Jimmy Smith is healthy enough to play in this game, I like his ability to help limit All-World TE Travis Kelce, and I think the rest of the defense holds up their end of the bargain.
They’re 2-0, boys! Surely they can go 17-0 now, right?!
Week 3: Detroit Lions (A)
Dan Campbell should be Coach of the Year based on his press conferences alone.
Unfortunately for him, that’s not good enough, and neither is his team, not when it comes to the Ravens.
Let’s keep it short and simple – Jared Goff scares absolutely no one, and the Lions have no weapons to worry about, outside of their internet-alleged murderer of a running back.
The Ravens defense feasts in this one, and the offense looks menacing, absolutely decimating the Lions in all facets.
3-0, and Ravens fans are starting to become annoying on Twitter.
Week 4: Denver Broncos (A)
I think that the Broncos defense (if healthy) is going to be good.
Good enough to keep them in a lot of games, in fact. That includes this one.
While the Broncos offense could be good, with guys like Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, I don’t think Teddy ‘Two-Gloves’ Bridgewater is anything more than a game manager at this point. Against the Ravens, it’s just.. not good enough.
The Ravens squeak by in this one, grinding to 4-0, and everybody is feeling good about themselves. Winning covers a lot of problems.
Week 5: Indianapolis Colts (H)
It’s week five of the NFL season, and Carson Wentz is.. healthy? It’s a weird world that we live in.
The Colts have an underrated defense, and I think they make some noise in this one. Darius Leonard is not to be trifled with, and he manages to disturb Lamar Jackson’s pocket presence more than once.
On the other side of the ball, Michael Pittman, Jr. is starting to find his stride, and he’s causing some problems against CB Anthony Averett. The Colts’ two-headed monster at running back gashes the Ravens’ outside run defense, and they eek out a win against the undefeated Ravens.
4-1 is still extremely respectable, especially in a longer season, where starting fast is just as important as ending strong.
Week 6: Los Angeles Chargers (H)
Justin Herbert was the talk of the 2020 rookie class, and for good reason. Herbert is a young star, with weapons like Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekler. As long as the team doctors keep needles out of his lungs, Herbert should have another phenomenal season, and start to cement himself as one of the Top 12 QBs in the league.
But wait! There’s more! The Chargers have guys like Joey Bosa and Derwin James on the other side of the ball, two certified studs, with supplemental players like Nasir Adderley and Kenneth Murray that could improve this year.
All-in-all, the Chargers should be more of a challenge than some may think, even with some new coaching at the helm. It’s unfortunate, but I can see them beating Baltimore, dropping them to 4-2, and ruining the debut of rookie Rashod Bateman (who has a nice game nonetheless).
Week 7: Cincinnati Bengals (H)
The Ravens fans (and the readers, at this point) are probably a bit upset, especially after beating the Chiefs and thinking that the Super Bowl was theirs for the taking.
Consider this a get-right game. Odafe Oweh is starting to look every bit like a first-round pass rusher, and spends the day making Joe Burrow’s life miserable. The Bengals have a terrible offensive line, but hey, they have a lot of weapons! Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tyler Boyd combine for five drops due to defensive pressure in this one, with Joe Mixon scoring the only offensive touchdown for the Bengals.
The Ravens annihilate their division rivals, cruising to 5-2, and a much-needed week off.
Week 8: BYE
(Insert joke about Ravens beating the BYE week.)
Week 9: Minnesota Vikings (H)
It’s been a nice stretch of time for the Ravens, being at home for over a month, even though they dropped a couple of winnable games in their own house.
Enter the struggling Vikings defense, just doing the best it can while Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen wreak havoc on the other side of the ball. I could see this ending up in a bit of a shootout, if the Ravens defense struggles against the trio of talent.
However, and I’m going to call my shot here, I think the Ravens win on a.. Miles Boykin touchdown? Sure. Boykin the Blocker is the hero of the game, scoring the go-ahead touchdown, and the Ravens defense gets the ball back for the kneel-down.
6-2, the Ravens fans are no longer mad, and the Ravens are in good shape for a playoff/seeding run (yes, in Week 9).
Week 10: Miami Dolphins (A)
The Miami Dolphins are not the same team that got damn near 60 points dropped on them in Week 1 of 2019. They missed the 2020 playoffs by half a game. They have a reinvigorated defense, and enough talent on offense to be an issue.
Brian Flores is going to have his guys ready for a revenge game against an AFC rival. Add in the heat of South Florida, and you could see a path to a struggling Baltimore team. The Ravens have struggled against tight ends for longer than the Browns have been the Mistake by the Lake, and I think Gesicki has a nice game in front of the home crowd.
The readers probably think I’m going to have the Ravens at 6-3 now, and.. I don’t.
The Ravens have had the Dolphins’ number for awhile now, winning the last three straight, and eight-of-nine against the SoFlo team. Make that nine-of-ten in a close one, with the Ravens moving to 7-2 and feeling really good about themselves.
Week 11: Chicago Bears (A)
At this point, I think we can safely assume that rookie Justin Fields is starting for the Bears. I cannot see a world where Andy Dalton holds onto the starting position for this long.
John Harbaugh’s teams absolutely feast on rookie quarterbacks, and today is no different. The Ravens will march into Soldier Field (get it?) and make their presence felt against one of the only teams who has a 2:1 win ratio against them.
Ronnie Stanley will make Khalil Mack look like rookie Jaylon Ferguson, and Nick Boyle is going to score a touchdown in this one. Manifest it with me, boys.
8-2 could still result in a losing season, but the Ravens would need everything to go wrong for that to happen, and it.. doesn’t.
Week 12: Cleveland Browns (H)
This one has been circled on the calendar for each and every Browns fan out there. It has also been circled on the calendar for a lot of Ravens fans. Ever since the Game of the Year of 2020, Browns fans have been the chirpiest of the chirpy, and not without reason.
The Browns are no longer an easy out. They had one of the best offensive lines in the league in 2020, Baker Mayfield played well, and they have some weapons. Defensively, they had some question marks. Myles Garrett notwithstanding, they had to make some changes, and they did. Their secondary, when healthy, should be improved, with new addition Josh Johnson III covering tight ends and rookie JOK lending a hand in coverage with his range and speed.
At this point in the season, both Ravens and Browns fans will know whether or not Kevin Stefanski had the Browns ready to go, or whether they were a flash in the pan in 2020. I am choosing to err on the side of caution, and believe in the Browns. (There was an opportunity to make a Believeland joke, but let’s face it, the Browns have been a joke for long enough that I don’t have to make it.)
That being said, I do not believe that the Browns come into Baltimore and take the first meeting. While this won’t be the 38-6 rout that they experienced in 2020, it will be a decisive victory, with the Ravens reinforcing the fact that they are still big brother – and taking sole control of first place in the AFC North at 9-2.
Week 13: Pittsburgh Steelers (A)
Welcome to the second week of back-to-back-to-back divisional games.
The Steelers’ offensive line has been a problem for most of the season at this point, and cries of ‘Rookie of the Year’ for Najee Harris have subsided. Chase Claypool’s stock has dropped, much like the passes that have gone through his hands, and Juju Smith-Schuster is back to dancing on TikTok.
But this is the best rivalry in the game. Records, strengths, weaknesses, none of it matters when it comes to Ravens vs. Steelers.
While Mike Tomlin’s Steelers may have their first losing season, this won’t contribute to it, as the Steelers find a way to win, dropping the Ravens to 9-3, and a 2-1 record within the division.
Week 14: Cleveland Browns (A)
The Ravens and Browns meet for the second time in less than a month, this time in Cleveland. Coming off of a hard-fought loss, the Ravens are bloody, banged-up, and.. resilient.
I’m not saying that the Ravens win this one, but they do keep it close. The Browns eek out a win against big brother in their home stadium, and Browns fans are back to being loud and obnoxious on the socials. The Ravens fall to 9-4 and .500 in the division, and Ravens fans start to feel like the wheels might be falling off, especially with a big game against the rolling Packers coming up.
Week 15: Green Bay Packers (H)
Any game where you have to face Aaron Rodgers is a game that you have to be nervous about. This is a game where you have to face Aaron Rodgers, with a presumably streaking Green Bay team around him. If it’s his last ride in Green Bay, you’d have to assume that he’s doing everything he can to go out with a ring.
Unfortunately for him, Marlon Humphrey does not care about your Super Bowl bid. He sticks to Davante Adams like a conjoined twin, holding him under 50 receiving yards, forcing Rodgers to rely on Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, picking on Anthony Averett and Tavon Young.
The Ravens defense stands tall this week, with just two sacks, but a handful of pressures and one interception. They keep the Packers offense in check long enough for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to make it a two possession game, and walk away with their tenth win.
Week 16: Cincinnati Bengals (A)
The Bengals are down and out at this point in the season, and instead of fighting for wins, they’re once again fighting for draft pick positioning.
Morale is low, injuries have taken their toll, and the Bengals are nothing more than a speed bump on the way to the playoffs, for the Ravens.
The Ravens head back home for the rest of the season at 11-4, and 3-2 in the division.
Week 17: Los Angeles Rams (H)
Matthew Stafford has been the quarterback that Sean McVay hoped he would be, and the Rams are in good shape in the not-as-competitive-as-hoped NFC West.
Aaron Donald is having another DPOY-worthy year, and Jalen Ramsey is neck-and-neck with Marlon Humphrey for the NFL’s CB1. Cam Akers’ loss cannot be understated, but the passing game has more than made up for it thus far.
Since we’re calling shots here, at this point in the season, Ar’Darius Washington has taken over the slot corner position, and he goes up for a late-game interception of Stafford. Odafe Oweh gets a couple of sacks in this one, and Ben Cleveland has a ‘Big Country’ game.
Lamar Jackson can’t replicate his systematic destruction of the Rams from Monday Night Football in 2019, but he and Rashod Bateman show a connection, partnering for two of his four passing touchdowns on the day. The Ravens are absolutely rolling, at a comfortable 12-4 on the season, and now jockeying for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Week 18: Pittsburgh Steelers (H)
Unfortunately, since the Ravens are fighting with the Kansas City Chiefs for the No. 1 seed, they cannot rest their starters and humiliate the Steelers with their backups.
The Steelers will be playing their starters anyway, in the hopes of spoiling the No. 1 spot for the Ravens, although they are out of the playoffs themselves. Unfortunately for them, the Ravens are all in this year, and John Harbaugh breaks out the big guns to ensure that they do whatever they can to secure the only first-round bye in the AFC this year.
The Ravens enjoy a final-week victory against their biggest rival, finishing the regular season at 13-4 (you will not believe how many times I had to check my math with these weird records this year) and 4-2 in the division.
They’ve won the AFC North by a hair, edging out the Cleveland Browns, and all is right with the regular-season world.
In Closing: The Ravens are going to the postseason!
I ended this article with far more positivity than I had originally thought. I definitely see a path where the Ravens could have a season exactly as described, but they could have anywhere between 11-14 wins.
I am sure that you will disagree with at least part of this article, but you cannot be upset with a 13-4 prediction.
If you are, please feel free to come fight me on Twitter, @LateRoundCorner.