2014 Record – 10-6
C Gino Gradkowski, CB Kyle Arrington, DE Lawrence Guy, S Kendrick Lewis
WR Torrey Smith, OLB Pernell McPhee, TE Owen Daniels, DT Haloti Ngata
Steve Smith had a good season by total yardage while catching a respectable six touchdowns. However, Torrey Smith was still the better receiver and has left town for a new contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Baltimore will struggle more than 2014 to take the top off the defense unless rookie WR Breshad Perriman can come along quickly. Perriman has similar speed attributes to Torrey Smith but route running is one of the slower skills to develop for rookies and he will need to give CBs a reason to worry about a crisp, underneath route.
Joe Flacco may not have been elite in 2014, but he was respectably top half of the league according to ProFootballFocus and the offense as a whole was top-10. The rush offense may not have come along quite as nicely, but Justin Forsett is an underrated asset and will provide plenty for the running game. The offense in Baltimore should do very well.
As is tradition in Baltimore, the defense helped drive things for this playoff squad. The Ravens finished eighth in defensive DVOA and players like Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Pernell McPhee (now with the Chicago Bears) all finished in the top-10 for OLBs. The front seven is the most impressive part of this defense and it showed in their rush defense for 2014. The loss of McPhee will hurt, but Courtney Upshaw will have to step up and the DE hole left by Haloti Ngata needs to be addressed in house. It won’t be easy, but they’ve done it before.
X-Factor – Courtney Upshaw
Dumervil is mostly just a pass rusher at this point in his career and Upshaw is mostly a two-down OLB in the Ravens 3-4 system. If Upshaw develops a bit of a pass rush game, the Ravens could get creative on third down by bringing in Dumervil and keeping Upshaw in the game. That flexibility will keep the Baltimore defense humming despite their losses.
2015 Breakout Player – Justin Forsett
Why pick a slightly undersized, 29-year-old running back coming off a 1200 yard rushing season with 260 yards receiving? Well, I won’t lie, it’s a bad idea. But Forsett has struggled to gain traction in the national consciousness as a consistent quality running back. He’s generally had quality yards/attempt but got 235 attempts, roughly double his previous high, for the first time and will be given a long leash again in 2015.
If all Perriman and Upshaw both succeed – a comeback for Upshaw and a rookie upstart for Perriman – the Ravens shouldn’t miss a beat from last season. 11-5
The losses of McPhee, Ngata, and T. Smith are being replaced mostly in-house and come with risk. If two-of-three fall flat, they’ll struggle to contain the run or throw the ball deep. 6-10
Week 17 will be a popular answer now that the NFL has mandated in division games to end the season, but with a wild card spot possibly and probably on the line, the matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals will be of the utmost importance for Baltimore.