Veteran NFL writer Peter King of Sports Illustrated is sold on the Ravens’ offseason changes. Seriously sold. In his offseason power rankings, King has the Ravens ranked No. 1 – the best team in the NFL ahead of the Seahawks (No. 2), the Packers (No. 3), the Chiefs (No. 4), and the Patriots (No. 5).
It’s not just the Ravens’ personnel that King finds impressive. King mentions head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees in his reasoning for feeling bullish about the Ravens.
Both Harbaugh and Pees have proven track records for maximizing talent. The Ravens have made the playoffs six times in Harbaugh’s seven seasons as head coach, and are a perfect 6-0 in their playoff openers. Pees did a masterful job again last season, devising schemes to help the Ravens’ secondary even when ravaged by injuries.
However, I think whether the Ravens meet King’s expectations depends on three questions:
1. Can they stop the run effectively after trading defensive tackle Haloti Ngata?
2. Can they run the ball as well, or even better, than last season?
3. Can they win the AFC North, and have at least one home playoff game?
Joe Flacco is a proven clutch quarterback, so I don’t worry about him playing well at money time. However, the Ravens’ offense is built for balance, not Air Flacco. In games in which Flacco threw the ball at least 40 times last season, the Ravens were 0-4. The Ravens will need a consistent running game again, led by Justin Forsett, to maximize what they can do offensively.
Defensively, if the Ravens struggle to stop the run, it will also hurt their pass rush and their secondary. The loss of Ngata and linebacker Pernell McPhee, who signed with the Bears, leaves a void that younger players must fill collectively.
The Ravens haven’t won the AFC North since 2012 – the season in which they won their last Super Bowl. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has already said the Ravens need to make winning the division a priority next season.
Super Bowls are won in February, not June, so plenty of teams are optimistic now. However, Ravens fans will be hoping that King’s offseason power rankings prove to be accurate.