Ravens Report NFL 2014 Forecast: Ravens Return To Top

Posted on August 31, 2014 by Joe Platania

COMMENTARY

EASIER SCHEDULE, GUT FEELING PREDICATES PICK

OWINGS MILLS -- So, why are we doing it?

Why is Ravens Report picking the Baltimore Ravens to win Super Bowl XLIX?

Joe Flacco

Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

After all, it's not as if this is an annual occurrence. This space is not the place to turn to find a strictly partisan hometown view of the team.

In fact, I have only picked the Ravens to win the Super Bowl twice in their 18 previous seasons, and they did not come away with the Lombardi Trophy on either occasion.

There is a combination of factors playing into this decision:

• First, the fact that the Ravens are playing the fifth-easiest schedule in the league, based on the opponents' 2013 records. Sure, an unprecedented stretch of five division games in the first nine weeks won't make it easy, but games against the AFC South and NFC South are much preferable to those against the two West divisions, which Baltimore will face next year.

• Secondly, head coach John Harbaugh is a creature of habit, and he prizes consistency over anything else. Under Brian Billick, the team was successful, but more prone to emotional mood swings that led not only to three playoff appearances in four years (2000-03), but three out of four years sitting home in January (2004-07).

• Also, the Ravens' offense, if blessed with health and consistency, has the potential to be the best in team history, surpassing even the Vinny Testaverde-Michael Jackson-Derrick Alexander-led squads in 1996-97. Those teams were cursed by a very poor defense, but this year's team is younger, faster and a bit deeper.

Plus, if the bend-but-don't-break defense doesn't break as often and the special teams units return to their usually above-average levels, it won't be a surprise to see the Ravens holding another Vince Lombardi Trophy.

If all that weren't enough, I had a gut feeling back in March -- and the Facebook audience can vouch for this -- that both the Orioles and Ravens would win championships this year, a repeat of the magical 1970 ride on which the Orioles and Colts took their delirious fans.

Here's how I think the 2014 NFL season plays out:

AFC NORTH 

1. Baltimore (11-5) -- The schedule and revamped offense are good for three more wins and a deep playoff run.

2. Pittsburgh (9-7) -- The Steelers return to the playoffs, but still aren't totally meshing yet.

3. Cincinnati (8-8) -- Marvin Lewis is a good coach, but the weight of expectations may be too much.

4. Cleveland (5-11) -- A promising young defense can't cancel out a wayward offense.

AFC EAST

1. New England (11-5) -- The Patriots will always figure in the conversation, only because the division is weak.

2. New York Jets (9-7) -- For Rex Ryan, Tom Brady is the white whale he can't quite catch.

3. Buffalo (6-10) -- With questions on offense, Sammy Watkins could be a wasted pick.

4. Miami (4-12) -- Hot weather could provide Joe Philbin with a hot seat.

AFC SOUTH

1. Indianapolis (10-6) -- The Colts have gotten one step better under Andrew Luck, but it's not their time.

2. Tennessee (8-8) -- Somebody has to finish second, and this enigmatic team is as good as any.

3. Houston (6-10) -- Last year's fall will be a tough hurdle to overcome.

4. Jacksonville (3-13) -- The Blake Bortles playing-time dilemma will be this year's headline.

AFC WEST

1. Denver (13-3) -- Will the Broncos score 600 points again? It's very possible.

2. San Diego (9-7) -- Philip Rivers is the AFC's Tony Romo: good, but not great.

3. Kansas City (6-10) -- Too many defections have left too many holes. 

4. Oakland (5-11) -- Oakland is still waiting for 'Commitment to Excellence' to reach the 21st century.

AFC seeds: 1. Denver 2. Baltimore 3. New England 4. Indianapolis 5. Pittsburgh 6. San Diego

Wild Card Weekend: New England over San Diego; Indianapolis over Pittsburgh

Divisional Round: Baltimore over New England, Indianapolis over Denver

AFC Championship: Baltimore over Indianapolis

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay (11-5) -- Marquee guys such as quarterback Aaron Rodgers always find a way.

2. Detroit (8-8) -- Jim Caldwell has good offense and defensive line, but not much else.

3. Chicago (7-9) -- Jay Cutler's big arm -- and bigger ego -- always sinks this team.

4. Minnesota (5-11) -- Adrian Peterson might want to go to Dallas after all.

NFC EAST

1. Philadelphia (10-6) -- Chip Kelly's scheme has translated well so far.

2. NY Giants (8-8) -- Eli Manning can't be that bad again, can he?

3. Dallas (6-10) -- It's a miracle this defenseless team has been 8-8 lately.

4. Washington (4-12) -- The talent is there, but the name controversy could be big hassle.

NFC SOUTH

1. New Orleans (11-5) -- The Saints proved in 2013 they had defense and ability to win outdoors.

2. Tampa Bay (9-7) -- The Lovie Smith hire could be NFL's biggest offseason move.

3. Atlanta (6-10) -- See Houston.

4. Carolina (5-11) -- See Kansas City.

NFC WEST

1. Seattle (12-4) -- The toughest division in football will be won by the toughest defense.

2. San Francisco (10-6) -- Aldon Smith's suspension tips the balance in Seattle's favor.

3. Arizona (9-7) -- Arizona narrowly missed playoffs last year, and should narrowly make it in 2014.

4. St. Louis (7-9) -- The Rams would be higher if Bradford didn't get hurt.

NFC seeds: 1. Seattle 2. Green Bay 3. New Orleans 4. Philadelphia 5. San Francisco 6. Arizona

Wild Card Weekend: New Orleans over Arizona; Philadelphia over San Francisco

Divisional Round: Green Bay over New Orleans; Seattle over Philadelphia

NFC Championship: Green Bay over Seattle

SUPER BOWL XLIX; FEB. 1; UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX STADIUM, GLENDALE, Ariz.: Baltimore over Green Bay

Joe Platania is in his 21st season covering professional football.

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