BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 25: Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with Anquan Boldin #81 after the pair connected for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins during the second half of a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Redskins 34-31. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
SB Nation is previewing the 2011 season for all 32 teams and up today is the Baltimore Ravens. Check out all of our 2011 NFL season previews.
With the Baltimore Ravens scheduled to play the NFC West, easily the weakest division in the NFL, as well as seeing both the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns twice, they could definitely be figured to sweep all eight of those games. If they can win five of the other eight games, they should be able to reach a 13-3 season and with it, that elusive AFC North division title and what would most likely earn then a playoff bye and a playoff home game for the first time in four consecutive trips to the post season.
Best Game On The Schedule
Although there are 16 games in the regular season, none can be looked at as better than the season opener hosting their hated AFC North division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Right now, hands down this is the best rivalry in the NFL and starting off the season with a home victory over the Steelers would set the tone for the rest of the year. Of course, hosting the San Francisco 49ers, coached by Ravens head coach John Harbaugh's brother, Jim, on Thanksgiving night, has to be a close second, as Baltimore, be it the old Colts or Ravens have never played on Thanksgiving Day.
Player Who Takes A Step Back This Year
Most people would jump up and yell, "Ray Lewis," but for the 16th straight year they would continue to be incorrect, as Ray remains one of the best inside linebackers in the game despite his advanced age. His film study, preparation and training regimen has him playing harder, stronger and even faster than many guys a decade younger than him. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about veteran center Matt Birk. Birk looked like an old man when he joined the Ravens and his aches and pain from squatting over the ball and absorbing thunderous hits from defensive linemen over the years has taken its toll on his now-frail body. He may be able to return from his pre-season injury in time for the 2011 regular season, but it will undoubtedly be his final one if he even makes it through to the end.
Breakout Player Candidates
This is a tough one, as there are so many, including the obvious candidate, QB Joe Flacco. Flacco has the receiving threats he needs in all areas, with the sure-handed Anquan Boldin, the speedster Lee Evans and of course, Mr. Everything, Ray Rice. He should have a great season if, and only if, the offensive line can give him the protection he didn't have last year.
Both second year tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, have looked solid replacing Todd Heap and one of them could separate from the other and have an excellent season. With the addition of Lee Evans as the No. 2 receiver, the possibility of either rookie WR, Torrey Smith or tendon Doss, making a huge impact has lessened. Defensively, there are tow guys who figure to have breakout seasons and two more whose impact should make a difference.
Defensive tackle, Terrence "Mount" Cody is the starter and has made huge strides in both learning the defense and rounding himself into good shape compared to last year. DE/OLB Paul Kruger has bulked up and seems to finally "get it" as to his role putting pressure on the opposing
QB. OLB Sergio Kindle has recovered from his horrible head injury that kept him out all of last year and has the size and speed to make a difference and rookie CB Jimmy Smith reminds many in Baltimore of former All-Pro CB Chris McAlister, and while he might not start the season at corner, he certainly expects to finish it as the starter.
Best Ravens Player Others Haven't Heard Of
WR David Reed was a fifth round draft pick last year who couldn't stay healthy and only recently returned to the practice field this week. However, he is already ahead of the rookie WR's and proved he can be a solid kick returner as he returned one for a TD last season. The other guy is punter Sam Koch, who is a linebacker in a punter's body and booms kicks far and can touch them down near the goal line almost on command, which is a very under rated skill.
RB Ray Rice was a top five fantasy pick last year but under-performed due to losing touches near the goal line and a less than stellar offensive line. This year, the o-line has improved, goal-line back Willis McGahee is gone and the team signed the best blocking fullback in the league in Vonta Leach which together signals a return to fantasy stardom for Rice. Both Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans are sure to see their share of passes.
Tight end Dennis Pitta may be an under-rated goal-line option for those short play-action passes. Do not sleep on grabbing QB Joe Flacco as your second QB, as he has the tools and another year experience and has not missed a start in his NFL career.
I can't think of any Ravens that is over-rated, as most Ravens have historically not been fantasy stars, and there is no way that ne could label the Ravens defense over-rated once again.
Best Media Personality
Other than me? While not so much a "personality," the Carroll County Times and National Football Post writer Aaron Wilson appears on many stations as the Ravens expert around town. He usually has the breaking news before anyone else and is well respected plus easy going and friendly. I also like WJZ-TV channel 13's Stan Saunders and Mark Viviano, both of whom are solid and approachable compared to many of the other established so-called main stream media.
Best Ravens Players To Follow On Twitter
Easily Ray Rice, who is always tweeting funny comments, including the other day about the local earthquake when he said on his Twitter account that he would like to tell us what he said when the quake hit, but it "wasn't printable!" CB Domonique Foxworth was interesting to follow, as he is a member of the NFLPA's Executive Committee and played an instrumental role in the CBA negotiations. Former Ravens FB LeRon McClain was a great "tweeter," but now is with the Kansas City Chiefs so we can no longer count him.