Preseason Predictions: Ravens Are Not Quite 'Super'
BUT BALTIMORE AGAIN PERCEIVED TO BE AMONG NFL'S ELITE
By Joe Platania
Last year, the prolonged NFL lockout deprived year-round, hardcore fans of the anticipation preseason prediction magazines generate.
You know, the $7.95 glossy guides that break down each team's strengths and weaknesses, offer fantasy drafting tips and reviews of the April college draft while taking all that information and spitting out predictions concerning which teams will win the eight divisions, the wild-card spots and the Super Bowl.
In 2011, the magazines' release was delayed from June until mid-summer because the lockout's conclusion led to a free-agent signing period that was a three-week free-for-all instead of a more drawn-out, four-month process.
But with this year's return to normalcy -- the possible hiring of replacement game officials notwithstanding -- the magazines are back to stoke optimism in some cities and outrage in others.
As is usually the case during free agency, the biggest flurry of signings took place within the first two months of the signing period, a span that included the late-April draft as well.
Because of that, the magazines were able to take all the available information and process it much earlier than last year. Even though most of their prognostications turn out to be wrong, the publications are a great way to get fans excited for the season ahead.
For Ravens fans, their oft-repeated refrain that "nobody gives us any respect" rings hollow once again this year.
They might not like the fact that, of the three preseason guides that have been released so far -- the USA Today Forecast, Lindy's Pro Football Preview, and the Pro Football Weekly 2012 Preview -- none of them are picking Baltimore to reach, let alone win, Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans Feb. 3.
But local partisans can take heart in the fact that the Ravens seem to be a consensus pick to win the AFC North Division for a second straight year -- something they have never done -- and advance to the postseason for a fifth consecutive season, the league's longest active streak.
And even though linebacker Terrell Suggs' partial Achilles tendon tear is sure to cast a big question mark over the team's traditionally strong defense, that injury and questions about the team's offensive line, safety corps, wide receivers and special teams play haven't deterred the experts from again including the Ravens among the league's elite teams.
(Not only that, but the post-magazine-deadline Achilles injury suffered by promising, but inactive, youngster Michael McAdoo, isn't likely to change any minds.)
Here's a breakdown of what the publications, not all of which have yet been released, are saying so far:
This is the magazine that does perhaps the most thorough job of breaking down an entire squad, ranking each position unit from 1 (worst) to 10 (best).
The John Harbaugh-led coaching staff and the Ray Rice-paced running back unit both earned a 9 rating, with the secondary and quarterbacks posting an 8.5. The Ravens' receivers and linebackers each earned a 7, while the team's offensive line brought up the rear at 6.5.
The rankings for each unit were added together, and the Ravens' total of 71.0 was 3.5 points ahead of the magazine's second-place pick for the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Baltimore's number was a half-point behind the pick to win the AFC title, the Houston Texans.
For the Super Bowl, Lindy's picked the Texans to win the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers, a team that earned a 10 rating for its special-teams units and a 9.5 for a linebacking corps that includes inside standouts NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. The defensive line, stout against the run all last year, earned a 9.
DIVISION WINNERS: New England, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Philadephia, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco
WILD CARDS: Pittsburgh, Tennessee, NY Giants, Chicago
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Houston beating Baltimore
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: San Francisco beating Philadelphia
SUPER BOWL XLVII: Houston beating San Francisco
PRO FOOTBALL WEEKLY
Last year, the Ravens' 12-4 record was good enough to win the AFC North via a head-to-head tiebreaker sweep against Pittsburgh. In 2012, PFW thinks it will happen again, only with the two teams posting 10-6 ledgers.
That stands to reason, what with the AFC North taking on the NFC East this fall as part of tougher schedules for the four teams.
The magazine doesn't offer a playoff progression to the conference title games as Lindy's does, but it does predict the Ravens and Texans will win their divisions with identical records. But it does not elaborate which of the two will get the crucial second seed (behind New England) and a first-round bye.
DIVISION WINNERS: New England, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco
WILD CARDS: Pittsburgh, Kansas City, NY Giants, Chicago
SUPER BOWL XLVII: San Francisco beating New England
USA TODAY FORECAST
This publication uses its offseason power rankings as a basis for how it thinks teams are going to do this year, but it does not offer a postseason progression.
If the teams play to USA Today's rankings, the seventh-placed Ravens would be eliminated in the Divisional (second) round, just as they were in 2009 (by Indianapolis) and 2010 (by Pittsburgh).
But the only AFC teams ranked ahead of Baltimore are New England (No. 3) and Houston (No. 5). The top two squads are both from the NFC, the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers.
Posted June 5, 2012