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Ravens look improved, but road to playoffs still difficult

Ravens look improved, but road to playoffs still difficult

After upgrading their talent during free agency and the draft, it’s not hard to argue the Ravens have gotten better. The bigger question is, how much better? Good enough to make the playoffs in the AFC?

Here are three reasons why I think the Ravens’ path to the playoffs still looks very challenging.

1. Don’t expect the Bengals or Steelers to take a step back.

The Ravens haven’t won the AFC North since 2012, and they won’t be favored to win it this year. The Bengals and Steelers remain strong. Despite losing wide receivers Marvin Jones (Lions) and Mohamed Sanu (Falcons) during free agency, the Bengals drafted a playmaking cornerback in Round 1 (William Jackson III) and another potential playmaker in Round 2 (wide receiver Tyler Boyd). Quarterback Andy Dalton still has elite weapons like wide receiver A. J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert, plus a diverse running back duo in Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard. The defense is solid. The Bengals aren’t going anywhere.

Neither are the Steelers, despite losing wide receiver Martavis Bryant to suspension. The Steelers think their pass defense should improve after drafting corners Artie Burns and Sean Davis. Their offense should remain one of the NFL’s most potent, led by quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown, and running back Le’Veon Bell.

It’s not hard to envision the Bengals and Steelers reaching at least 10 wins again.

2. The AFC wild card race won’t be a picnic either.

Here are two teams with losing records in 2015 to watch – the Raiders and the Jaguars. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr keeps improving, and he should be better protected after the Raiders signed left guard Kelechi Osemele away from the Ravens. Few people expected the Jaguars to come away with both defensive back Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack in the draft. They Jaguars’ defense will make plays. Interestingly, the Ravens visit Jacksonville (Week 3) and host Oakland (Week 4). Those games could have tie-breaker implications by Week 17.

3. The fourth quarter of the Ravens’ schedule is tough.

Overall, the Ravens got a better break on the schedule in 2016 than in 2015, with far less travel, particularly early in the season. But check out the last four games – at New England, vs. Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh on Christmas, and at Cincinnati on New Year’s Day. Winning two out of those last four wouldn’t be bad. But that may not be enough, unless the Ravens stack at least eight wins during the first 12 games.

Conclusion: If the Ravens make the playoffs, nobody should say they didn’t deserve it. The road to the postseason looks anything but easy.

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Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

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USA Today Sports

Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

On Wednesday, February 14, a horrific school shooting claimed the lives of 17 innocent people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. 

The tragic event impacted people far and wide, and hit especially close to home for Ravens running back Alex Collins.

The former Arkansas star was born in Plantation, Fla., a suburb of Fort Lauderdale and went to high school just 15 miles south of Douglas High School. 

In the offseason, Collins took Irish dancing lessons to improve his footwork, and following the act of terror, the Ravens' tailback learned that one of his dance partners had been killed in the mass shooting.

17-year-old Cara Loughran attended The Drake school of Irish Dance with Collins in addition to two other Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and was fatally shot by the gunman on Wednesday afternoon. 

Collins took to his Twitter account to issue this heartfelt message.

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“The school shooting yesterday hit home,” Collins wrote.

“We received confirmation a few hours ago we lost one of the girls, Cara Loughran. Two other girls saw and experienced unspeakable tragedy. My heart goes out to these girls, all their families and their teacher Chrissy.”

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Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

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USA Today Sports

Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears will launch the NFL's 99th season by playing in the annual Hall of Fame game on Aug. 2.

The Ravens' first appearance in the Hall of Fame game, which launches the league's 2018 Enshrinement Week. Former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis is among the inductees, along with former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Lewis, who played 17 seasons with the Ravens, and Urlacher, who played all of his 13 seasons with Chicago, both were elected on the first ballot.

Lewis joins Jonathan Ogden as the only Ravens in the Hall of Fame. Both were selected by Baltimore in the first round of the 1996 draft.

The other members of the Class of 2018 include Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. All will be inducted on Saturday, Aug. 4.

This will be the record-tying fifth time that the Bears will play in the Hall of Fame game. They won the previous four, most recently 27-24 over Miami in 2005.

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