2018 win total: 8
2017 ATS record: 8-7-1
Optimist view: They’ve only failed to reach eight victories once in the past decade, and though past performance has little or nothing to do with future results in most cases, we can at least say that John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco have a pretty solid track record of success over that period that pushes the needle one way more than the other. Last season, they went off in the preseason at 8.5 wins and still found a way to hit the over, despite everything that conspired against the Ravens.
Flacco might have hit the wall, career-wise, but the presence of Lamar Jackson — and the intriguing possibility he’s folded into the gameplan weekly — gives us some hope. This was a team that was absolutely crushed by injuries and other defections a year ago and yet somehow was one 4th-and-13 conversion in Week 17 away from a 10-6 record and another trip to the playoffs.
Pessimist view: Are we sure the remade WR crew is that much better? What about the offensive line? There’s still a clear lack of playmaking ability outside of Alex Collins (the only returning player to have a play from scrimmage longer than 37 yards last season) and Jackson (who knows when, or if, he’ll actually take the field?). Some fresh blood at tight end should help, but rookie tight ends tend to be fool’s gold in Year 1 more often than not in terms of receiving production.
Then there’s the defense, which by most measures was good last season. But will it be carry-the-offense good? That’s highly debatable. Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle will be 36 and 34, respectively, by season’s end. Clear-cut pass-rush resources are a bit limited. This defense lived and died by the takeaway last season (a league-best 34) and still couldn’t make the playoffs. Are they going to pick off 22 passes again this season? That’s asking a quite a bit.
On schedule: It starts off favorably enough with two manageable home games (vs. Buffalo and Denver) sandwiching a winnable road game at Cincinnati, even if that’s a short-week tilt on Thursday in Week 2. There’s a tricky stretch from Week 4 to Week 9 that includes both Steelers matchups, along with three other games vs. 2017 playoff teams — Titans (road), Saints (home) and Panthers (road).
The December slate featuring the Falcons, Chiefs and Chargers on the road also could be tough. Opening the season with four of the first six on the road, along with three of four on the road from Weeks 13 to 16, is no coach’s dream slate.
But this is a division that still features two bad teams until further notice, and the Steelers didn’t always play like a 13-3 team last season, losing at Chicago, twice to the Jaguars at home and going 8-2 in one-score games, suggesting that luck was more on their side than it wasn’t. On the flip side, the Ravens likely were on the bad-side luck a few times in going 2-5 in one-score contests.
We feel over the eight victories is a pretty safe bet. At 8.5, it wouldn’t be quite as tempting, naturally, as this team does give off the whiff of a .500 club. But we actually like the Ravens better than that and think they’ll at least give Pittsburgh a solid run for the division title.
Yes, that’s a more rosy outlook than others might have. But the Ravens enter something of a crossroads with front-office changes, Harbaugh now coming off his fourth season in the past five without a playoff bid and Flacco being pushed a bit by Jackson’s presence. We think that pressure actually will motivate this team more than it will hinder it. People are sleeping on the Ravens too much.