Murphy's Law most definitely applied to the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, so if you are one of those believers that luck evens itself out, then Coach John Harbaugh's club should have a great 2016 season. But until I see all those key guys who suffered season-ending injuries last year on the field, it's hard to handicap this team.
I read nothing into preseason games, but quarterback Joe Flacco, running Justin Forsett; wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman; and linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil all were held out of Baltimore's first preseason game last week. Harbaugh says he expects all of them to be ready for Week 1. Perriman, the team's first-round pick last year, didn't play at all in 2015.
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Could Harbaugh be on the hot seat this year? If he was fired, a lot of other NFL and NCAA teams would love to have him. After making the playoffs in each of Harbaugh's first five seasons, and of course winning the Super Bowl in the 2012 campaign, the Ravens have finished third in the AFC North each of the past three years, missing the playoffs in two of those. Last year's 5-11 mark was the team's worst since 2007, which got Brian Billick fired.
As for offseason moves, the team opted to pass on gas mask-wearing Laremy Tunsil with the No. 6 overall pick even though he was the top-rated offensive tackle on the board. The Ravens, still smarting from the Ray Rice fiasco, didn't need any more bad PR so they played it safe and took Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley instead. He should start Day 1 at left tackle and be an upgrade on the released Eugene Monroe (a big marijuana advocate, by the way). The Ravens also added Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, who had a career year in 2015, and former Vikings receiver Mike Wallace. Perhaps returning to the AFC North will help Wallace find the form that made him a rising star in Pittsburgh instead of the bust he was in Miami and Minnesota.
The secondary should be improved with the signing of Chargers free-agent safety Eric Weddle. The Ravens were looking for a playmaker in the secondary after picking off just six passes last year. Weddle's a three-time Pro Bowler with 19 career picks.
Baltimore was 3-5 at home last season, a ghastly 1-6-1 against the spread and 4-4 "over/under." The Ravens host three 2015 playoff teams this season. I project a 5-3 record. BetOnline give them a wins total of 8, with the over a -140 favorite. Looks like a 9-7 club to me. Overall, Baltimore's schedule ranks as tied for the 19th-toughest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2015 winning percentage of .484. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 11 vs. Bills (-2.5, 43): The Ravens are 4-1 under Harbaugh when starting the season at home. This will be Baltimore's first time playing former backup QB Tyrod Taylor, who had a solid first season in Buffalo as the starter. Of course, the Bills are coached by Rex Ryan, once a former Ravens defensive coordinator. He also hired an ex-Ravens great this offseason in Ed Reed as an assistant. Buffalo lost meeting with Bills, 23-20 in Buffalo in 2013. Key trend: Ravens have won and covered three of past four at home in series.
Oct. 2 vs. Raiders (-2): Baltimore off a Week 3 trip to Jacksonville, and if Ravens win that I believe they will be 3-0 here. Oakland is off a trip to Tennessee the previous Sunday, and if Raiders win Week 1 in New Orleans I believe they will be 3-0 here. Baltimore lost in Oakland in Week 2 last year, 37-33 on a late Derek Carr TD pass. Flacco threw for 384 yards, two TDs and a pick. Smith caught 10 passes for 150 yards. Key trend: Ravens 0-4 ATS in past four at home vs. AFC West.
Oct. 9 vs. Redskins (-2.5): First 2015 playoff team that Ravens face this year, home or away. Washington is off a Week 4 home game vs. Cleveland. This is only the second time the Ravens host their neighbors in a regular-season game at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore won the first, 24-10 in 2008. Key trend: Ravens 6-4 ATS in past 10 at home vs. NFC East.
Nov. 6 vs. Steelers (+3): Baltimore comes off its bye week. So does Pittsburgh. The Ravens somehow swept the Steelers last year, winning 20-17 at home in Week 16 with Ryan Mallett starting for the injured Flacco. Mallett was 28-for-41 for a career-high 274 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens forced three turnovers and didn't commit any. Key trend: Ravens 6-3-1 ATS in past 10 as home dog in series.
Nov. 10 vs. Browns (-8.5): Thursday night game. Probably the last team the Ravens want to play ahead of a quick turnaround Thursday game would be the blood-rival Steelers. But at least the turnaround features the Browns. This is the only Ravens home game not scheduled to start at 1 p.m. ET. Cleveland comes off a home game vs. Dallas in Week 9 and I think will be winless. The Ravens lost at home to the Browns 33-30 in OT in Week 5 last year. Baltimore led by 12 late in the third quarter but allowed the lousy Browns a whopping 505 yards of offense. Forsett had a good game, carrying 21 times for 121 yards and a TD. The Ravens are 5-0 in prime-time games against the Browns all time, though. Key trend: Ravens 2-7 ATS as at least a 7-point home favorite in series.
Nov. 27 vs. Bengals (+1.5): Baltimore is in Dallas the previous Sunday. Cincinnati is off a home game vs. Buffalo in Week 11. The Ravens have lost their past two home games to the Bengals and have never dropped three in a row at home to them. Last year it was 28-24 in Week 3 on a late Andy Dalton TD pass. Flacco was 32-for-49 for 362 yards, two TDs and a pick but the Ravens couldn't run the ball at all and couldn't stop A.J. Green. Key trend: Ravens 4-1 ATS in series as a home dog.
Dec. 4 vs. Dolphins (-3): Miami off a home game vs. San Francisco in Week 12. Flacco is 5-0 all time against Miami, including the playoffs (teams met in postseason following 2008 season). His 97.8 passer rating is the highest of any quarterback who has played more than two games against the Dolphins since 2008. Baltimore lost in Miami 15-13 in Week 13 last year but Flacco was done for the season by then. Matt Schaub started that one. Key trend: Ravens 2-5 ATS at home in series.
Dec. 18 vs. Eagles (pick'em): This screams potential trap game if the Ravens are good as they are on a short week off a trip to New England on Monday in Week 14 and then close at Steelers and at Bengals. Philly is home to Washington the previous Sunday. Baltimore is 1-0-1 all time at home vs. the Eagles. Key trend: Ravens 3-2 ATS at home all time in a pick'em game.
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