If you want to appreciate the success the New England Patriots have had since Tom Brady came into the league, simply look at the Baltimore Ravens for how hard it is to keep an annual Super Bowl contender going in the salary-cap era.
Coming off a 5-11 season under Coach Brian Billick in 2007, the Ravens fired him and made a surprising hire in January 2008: John Harbaugh, who had spent eight years as the Eagles' special teams coach and only added the title of secondary coach in 2007. You simply don't see guys go from special teams/secondary coach to NFL head coach.
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But it clearly worked out well for the Ravens as they made the playoffs in each of Harbaugh's first five seasons, capped by that Super Bowl XLVII win over the San Francisco 49ers and Harbaugh's brother Jim. Remember how good Joe Flacco was in those playoffs? He picked a good time to play the best football of his career as he was up for a new contract. The Ravens made him the NFL's highest-paid player at the time - even though Flacco is clearly overrated and has never approached that playoff level again - and the team hasn't been the same since. Winning a Super Bowl is expensive! I still don't know how the Patriots do it, other than Brady taking 50 cents on the dollar.
The Ravens finished 8-8 last year in missing the playoffs for the second straight season and third time in four years. I do think John Harbaugh is on the hot seat entering this year as since winning it all in 2012, the Ravens are 31-33. I also have no doubt that he would be snapped up by another NFL team or a top college program if so. When USC was struggling early in 2016 and rumors were flying that Clay Helton might not make it, Harbaugh's name was mentioned. By the way, Billick was 33-31 in his final four seasons.
Baltimore was 2-6 on the road last year, 2-6 against the spread and 4-3-1 "over/under. The Ravens travel to three playoff teams in 2017: Oakland, Green Bay and Pittsburgh. The road slate is clearly tougher than at home, but on the bright side the team plays back-to-back weeks away from home just once (another two-game road stretch interrupted by an off week). I project a 2-6 record for the third straight season. Odds listed for the home team .
Sept. 10 at Bengals (-1, 43.5): In recent years, Baltimore has often finished the season in Cincinnati. That was the case in Week 17 last year, a 27-10 Ravens loss. They clearly didn't give a hoot that game after being eliminated from the playoffs the week before by Pittsburgh. It was also the final game in the Hall of Fame career of Baltimore receiver Steve Smith. Key trend: Ravens 0-6 SU & 1-5 ATS in past six as a road dog in series.
Sept. 24 at Jaguars (+1.5): Baltimore off its home opener vs. Cleveland and likely a victory. This game is in London and the Ravens opted to not take their bye in Week 4. It's the first international game in franchise history. Baltimore visited the Jags in Week 3 last year and won 19-17 on a Justin Tucker 54-yard field goal with 1:02 left. Flacco was picked off twice but ran for a score. Key trend: Ravens 2-6-2 ATS in past 10 as favorite in series (any location).
Oct. 8 at Raiders (-4.5): Ravens off a big home game vs. Pittsburgh in Week 4. Baltimore has lost to the Raiders in each of the past two seasons by a total of five points. It was 28-27 in Baltimore Week 4 last year, which started the Ravens on a four-game skid after starting 3-0. The Ravens outgained the Raiders 412-261 last year. Key trend: Ravens 4-6 ATS in past 10 at AFC West.
Oct. 22 at Vikings (-3.5): Baltimore hosts Chicago the previous Sunday. This is the Ravens' only dome game of the season. They are 3-1 all-time vs. the Vikings, winning the last meeting 29-26 in 2013. Key trend: Ravens 6-2 ATS all-time at NFC North.
Nov. 5 at Titans (-2.5): Ravens on extra rest after hosting Miami on Thursday in Week 8. It's also before Baltimore's bye. The Ravens tend to struggle in Nashville but won the most recent meeting 21-7 at home in 2014. Key trend: Ravens 4-6 ATS in past 10 before a bye (any location).
Nov. 19 at Packers (-7): Baltimore off its bye week. Four of its final six after this are home. The Ravens are 0-3 all-time at Lambeau Field. Key trend: Ravens 7-3 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Dec. 10 at Steelers (-6): Sunday night, with the Ravens hosting Detroit the previous week. Baltimore is 3-10 (including playoffs) against Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. As noted above, the Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs with a 31-27 loss on Christmas in Steel Town last year. That was a great game, as Baltimore took a 27-24 lead with 1:18 left but allowed the Steelers to drive right back down the field and win it with nine seconds to go. Key trend: Ravens 5-4-1 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
Dec. 17 at Browns (+4): Ravens certainly can't complain that their final road game of the season is at putrid Cleveland and then get the last two at home (Colts & Bengals). Baltimore has four road wins the past two years. Half of those are in Cleveland. It was 25-20 in Week 2 last year after spotting the Browns a 20-0 lead. The momentum changed when the Ravens returned a Browns PAT try for a score, and instead of 21-0 it was 20-2. Key trend: Ravens have won and covered past five as at least a 3-point favorite in Cleveland.
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