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Around the North: Are the Ravens ready to win?

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BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during warmups before playing against the Detriot Lions at M&T Bank Stadium on December 03, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during warmups before playing against the Detriot Lions at M&T Bank Stadium on December 03, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /
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After being pushed out of the playoff race by the Cincinnati Bengals the last two seasons, are the Baltimore Ravens ready to compete this year?

The Baltimore Ravens have missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, and two of those are in partial thanks to the Cincinnati Bengals. The divisional rivals have faced off at the end of the last two seasons with the Bengals having nothing to play, except to knock a divisional opponent out of the playoff race. Baltimore has made some impressive moves this offseason to put veteran quarterback Joe Flacco in a similar position as Cincinnati veteran quarterback Andy Dalton.

Since the Ravens won the Super Bowl, Flacco has been average at best. Last year especially was a lousy year for Flacco only throwing for 3,141 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. The former Super Bowl quarterback threw for the lowest yards per attempt in the league at 5.7. It seems that the Ravens went into the offseason to supply Flacco with plenty of weapons in the last chance to prove himself. If he doesn’t have success, the Ravens first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson will be sitting and waiting to take over.

Baltimore started off the draft by selecting South Carolina tight end, Hayden Hurst. Baltimore hasn’t had a consistent tight end presence since Dennis Pitta retired. They doubled down on the position by selecting Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews in the third round. Adding a couple of wide receivers on day three, it added to the free agent talent Baltimore brought in with wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown.

With all of the talent the Ravens have brought in, there are no excuses for Flacco in 2018. The defense has carried the team for much of the last few years, and it’s time for the offense to take a significant step forward. With all of these weapons, it seems Baltimore is all in for Flacco for one more season. How well did they address the rest of their needs? I decided to talk to Joe Schiller, editor of Ebony Bird (Baltimore Ravens FanSided) and see what his thoughts were on the draft class.

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“The pass-catching department was a huge need, and the front office addressed that early and often with Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. Both add a dynamic to the tight end position the Ravens haven’t had since the retirement of Dennis Pitta. They also took two wide receivers in Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley on Day 3. They give the wide receiver group even more depth heading after signing Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead in free agency. After declining Austin Howard’s team option and losing Ryan Jensen to free agency, the Ravens added tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in the third round and center Bradley Bozeman in the sixth round. Both have the opportunity to compete for starting roles this season.”

Ravens fans have been begging for some playmaking ability on offense which has lacked over recent seasons. Low attendance has proven how the fans feel about Joe Flacco and the poor offense. While fans are ecstatic about the draft class, according to Joe, they are most excited about their new quarterback of the future in Lamar Jackson.

“The Ravens’ offense has lacked a dynamic playmaker and fans have been longing for a player to get excited about. That’s exactly what Jackson brings to the table. Watching him tear up opposing offenses at Louisville is all you need to see. His dual-threat ability is polarizing, and he’s the most electrifying player in this draft class. Fans are already ordering their No. 8 jerseys, and the hype is real in Baltimore. ”

Given the draft class of the Ravens, they have a mixture of players that will be immediate impact players this year and developmental players. How much will the rookies help the Ravens in 2018? Players like Hurst will likely see the field in week one along with their new offensive linemen. Overall, some of the rookies might be more developmental projects, especially for the receivers sitting behind the veterans brought over in free agency.

“It’s all dependent on how the positional battles turn out. Hurst and Andrews can make an immediate impact at tight end given the lack of depth at the position. Greg Roman and Marty Mornhinweg will integrate them into the offense very quickly. As mentioned before, both Orlando Brown and Bradley Bozeman can be starters this season. The Ravens have shown they’re not afraid to start rookie offensive lineman, no matter the position. Anthony Averett and DeShone Elliott are my darkhorse candidates to make an impact, whether that be in the secondary or in special teams. Both Day 3 picks are loaded with talent.”

Last but not least, I asked Joe about the state of the Ravens franchise going into 2018. Following three straight seasons of missing the playoffs, Baltimore has worked hard to bring in players for the offensive side of the ball to help relieve some of the pressure on the defense to carry the team.

“There’s a ton of pressure in Baltimore. The Ravens have missed the postseason three seasons in a row, an unprecedented mark in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era. This is a team that believes they can win now and have come one game away from the postseason the last two years. Owner Steve Bisciotti has stuck with Harbaugh and his coaching staff through this rough stretch and 2018 seems to be the final straw. With the entire starting defense returning and the weapons around Flacco, there’s no excuse for the Ravens to miss out on the postseason again. Another year of failure could see major changes in personnel and coaching staff.”

That last part was interesting to me. Sure if the Ravens miss the playoffs again, that would make four straight years, and the organization might have to look at head coach John Harbaugh as part of the issue. At the same time, with the weapons they have brought in this year to not only help Flacco gain some traction but also help the transition of Lamar Jackson possibly in the next year or two, I’m not so sure if Harbaugh will be on the hot seat as much.

Given that the team invested in a quarterback trading back into the first round, that could save Harbaugh if the team doesn’t meet expectations in 2018. Giving him a shot to work with Jackson and to see what develops there and leaving Flacco as the scapegoat is a possibility.

Next: Around the North: Cleveland Browns

It should be an exciting season for the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 as they try and compete in the AFC North for a competitive division title. Many believe that until proven otherwise, the Steelers are still the team to beat in the North but the Ravens and Bengals are big-time contributors when looking at the changes this offseason. Will the Ravens be a more significant threat for the Bengals this season and with the North having multiple teams all in this year, who will take the division title?

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