2018 review of previews

Every year, a bunch of NFL yearbooks are published, summarising the previous season’s action and offering predictions for the coming year. Here’s what the 2018 editions have to say about the Ravens.

Football Outsiders Almanac 2018
Prediction: 8-8

Always an essential read, the Football Outsiders (FO) almanac is packed with detail. This year’s edition points out that the Ravens benefitted from a lot of luck last year, as opposing quarterbacks went out injured and turnovers and penalties seemed to go their way. FO considers it unlikely that the Ravens will be as fortunate this season. They remain “a clear step behind Pittsburgh, roughly equal with Cincinnati and a clear step (or two) ahead of Cleveland”.

Digging into the stats shows that 11 personnel (1 RB, 1TE, 3WR) was the Ravens’ most common last season – used 40 per cent of the time. They threw from that set 73 per cent of the time, which is a pretty major tip-off to the opposition. Elsewhere, they lead the league in two-TE formations – running them 55 per cent of the time, often with one TE in the backfield.

FO is optimistic about Lamar Jackson, who they rate as highly as any other rookie QB except Baker Mayfield – and that’s without factoring in running ability. They list Chris Wormley and Kenneth Dixon among their 25 overlooked prospects for the year, with an honourable mention for Nico Siragusa. However, they are unimpressed with the acquisition of Michael Crabtree, suggesting that WR1 is now “beyond his capabilities”.

Finally, some stats in the guide raise questions about Brandon Carr, typically lauded among Ravens media for his durability. FO data lists Carr as 11th in the NFL first downs and touchdowns allowed in coverage in 2017, 6th in pass yards allowed in coverage and 11th in most penalties. If Carr steps in for the suspended Jimmy Smith, Ravens fans should be concerned.

Street & Smith’s 2018 Pro Football Yearbook
Prediction: 3rd in AFC North, no playoffs

As the prediction of a third place finish suggests, S&S is not particularly optimistic about the Ravens’ chances for the year. They give the team an overall grade of C+ and have lots of questions: Is Joe Flacco in the twilight of his career or was he just in need of weapons? Can Alex Collins hold up physically as the number one back? What are the options for a third down back? And who fits at center?

“Offensively they don’t have anyone who puts fear in a defense,” says the ‘opposition’ source that S&S spoke to, “not one player you really have to gameplan for.”

On the other side of the ball, S&S questions how much Suggs has in the tank and who can play alongside CJ Mosley. The Ravens also need more pass rush from the defensive line, says S&S.

Pro Football Weekly Preview 2018
Prediction: 9-7, 2nd in AFC North, Wild Card

PFW’s guide opens with an overview of some of the NFL’s top players and a few Ravens feature: Collins, ranked 21 among RBs; Yanda, 6th at G; Suggs, 12th at Edge; Mosley, 6th at LB; Weddle, 12th at S; Tucker, 2nd at K; Koch, 4th at P.

They warn that the Ravens are struggling to transform “arguably the league’s blandest offense” and that their ceiling is probably squeezing into the playoffs. On the other hand, the worst case would see Flacco and Suggs decline and the Ravens plunged into full rebuild mode.

They expect Collins to be the offensive MVP and Mosley to be defensive MVP. Breakout players, they predict, will be Chris Moore and Marlon Humphrey.

Lindy’s Pro Football 2018
Prediction, 2nd in AFC North

The Lindy’s preview is pretty much a straight narration of who’s who and what happened last year. They describe 2018 as “one of the most critical offseasons in franchise history” and are positive about the draft, giving the Ravens an A- grade.

They expect the defense to be more aggressive under Martindale and Flacco to stretch the field deep more than last season. (Though how he could do it less is debatable.) Finally, they predict that Kenneth Dixon will step up.

Warren Sharp’s 2018 Football Preview
Prediction: 8-8

Sharp sees some positives for the Ravens this year, notably a schedule that is easier than average and features several soft run defenses. Alex Collins is top of his list of “players I might be higher on than you” and that’s partly down to the teams the RB will face this year. Sharp also expects the Ravens to put out “one of the best [defensive] units in football”, though he follows that with “presuming Jimmy Smith returns”, which – as we now know – won’t be the case for the full season.

Elsewhere, Sharp’s guide is packed with stats and analysis and you can spend hours pouring over the data for each team. What Sharp highlights is the poor performance of the passing offense last year – 26th in pass efficiency, 31st in yards per attempt, 28th in explosive passing and 27th in 3rd down offense.

The Ravens passed on 67% of plays in 2016 and the rise of Collins in 2017 allowed that figure to come down to 56% last year. If Collins builds on last year, the Ravens might become more balanced still, which should help to improve the success of the passing game. Plus, of course, a new receiving corps should help.

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