While the Ravens cleaned out their lockers Monday, the Bengals and Steelers were getting ready for the playoffs.
In the long run, it might be good that the bottom fell out for the Ravens (5-11) this season, because it should force the organization to face reality. The Ravens need to close the talent gap between themselves and the top two teams in the AFC North.
“We’re going to have to look at what we have when this offseason settles down and where we may need a guy or two,” said quarterback Joe Flacco on Monday. “We need to improve, there’s no doubt about it.”
The Bengals have won two straight division titles. They have beaten the Ravens five straight times. They have young playmakers like A. J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill, and Gionvani Bernard. They have an excellent defense which allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season. Even if they keep stumbling in the playoffs, the Bengals figure to be good for some time.
The Steelers have made the playoffs the last two years, and have one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger. As long as Roethlisberger is their quarterback, the Steelers figure to remain Super Bowl contenders. Even with star running back Le’Veon Bell missing most of the season, Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown led a potent attack that topped the AFC in total offense. We know the Ravens swept the Steelers this year, but the Ravens would gladly change places with the Steelers now.
Is it realistic to think the Ravens can get back in the playoffs next year? Yes. They have quality at the three most important spots – general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and Flacco at quarterback. While that trio isn’t perfect, they are winners, and they have Super Bowl rings to prove it.
Newsome needs to have his best offseason in some time. At the very least, he needs to hit in the draft’s early rounds, and find impact players who can help the Ravens win as rookies. The Ravens weren’t going to the Super Bowl this season, even before the injuries became overwhelming. They need more team speed – playmakers on offense who can strike quickly, and playmakers on defense that can force turnovers and make quarterbacks uncomfortable.
Newsome thought he had his speed wide receiver in rookie Breshad Perriman, but Perriman never played a snap due to his knee injury. Now Newsome needs to find more speed at that position through the draft or free agency, because counting on Perriman alone to bring that element is just too dangerous.
It will be interesting to hear owner Steve Bisciotti’s take when he addresses the media Thursday. But the Ravens can’t expect the Bengals or Steelers to fall back to them in the division. To bounce back in 2016, the Ravens need fewer injuries. But they also need more talent.