1. Let the offseason begin:
Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn’t going anywhere, but the 2016 draft and offseason will be one of the most important in team history. Just having a healthier season next year won’t be enough. The Ravens need to get deeper, faster, and more talented to compete with the Bengals and Steelers in the AFC North.
2. The Bengals (12-4) have the kind of young, offensive weapons the Ravens need to find.
The Bengals’ three touchdowns were scored by tight end Tyler Eifert, wide receiver A. J. Green, and running back Jeremy Hill. All three were drafted by the Bengals in either the first or second round. With the talent the Bengals and Steelers have, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. If the Ravens want to compete in the AFC North, they’ll need young players like running back Buck Allen and tight end Maxx Williams to keep developing. They’ll also need wide receiver Breshad Perriman to get healthy, and they need to hit often in next year’s draft.
3. A. J. McCarron is serviceable, but the Bengals need Andy Dalton to make a playoff run.
McCarron (17 for 27, 160 yards, two touchdowns) was careful with the football, but at times he was hesitant. The Bengals are simply a less explosive team without Dalton at the helm. If Dalton (thumb) can’t return sometime during the playoffs, it will be much more difficult for the Bengals to make noise.
4. Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallet found out how good the Bengals’ defense is.
Mallet (30 for 56, 292 yards, one TD, two interceptions) threw his first interception as a Raven, and it led to the Bengals’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Once the Bengals took the lead, their pass rush became more ferocious, and Mallett had to move or throw quickly to avoid being sacked. It’s good that Mallett got to play two games during the regular season. But the Ravens will hope for two things from quarterback Joe Flacco in 2016 – a speedy recovery from knee surgery, and a healthy 16-game season.
5. Kamar Aiken (five catches, 76 yards) fell short of 1,000 yards, but had a strong season.
Aiken (944 yards receiving) blossomed into a consistent target this season, both before Steve Smith was injured, and afterward. Aiken is a restricted free agent, but he has done enough to earn a new deal, and re-signing with the Ravens makes sense for both sides.