Despite a rash of injuries, the Baltimore Ravens were 8-3 going into December before a six-game losing streak gave head coach John Harbaugh the second losing record of his career, and it kept the team out of the playoffs. It is the first time Harbaugh has finished last in the AFC North.
The Ravens went from winning games in dramatic fashion to losing every close game in sight. The 2021 Ravens are the first team in NFL history to lose five games by three or fewer points after November.
Now Baltimore is back and hoping for better health, better fortune in close games, and a return to the postseason. Many of the top-rated sportsbooks give the Ravens an over/under of 10 wins. Are we sleeping on the Ravens as a serious Super Bowl contender?
The Notable Changes for 2022
Between all the close games and injuries, the Ravens may be the best candidate in the league for some positive regression in 2022.
However, the team must still show it can blend a potent running game with Jackson’s unique talents as well as a championship-caliber defense.
Harbaugh and Jackson: The Five-Year Rule
Cincinnati’s quick path to a Super Bowl appearance last season may sting Baltimore fans worse than usual. Since winning Super Bowl XLVII in the 2012 season, John Harbaugh has not led the Ravens past the second round of the playoffs.
This playoff drought is concerning when you consider that Lamar Jackson is going into his fifth season as a starter for Harbaugh, who is entering his 15th season with the team. While Jackson is acting as his own agent and looks to be paid substantially by the Ravens, the time on this duo may be running out.
In NFL history, no team has started the same quarterback under the same head coach for more than five seasons and seen that duo win its first championship together.
In fact, several coach-quarterback duos peaked in their fifth year before never winning a title together, including:
- Denver’s Dan Reeves and John Elway (1987)
- Cincinnati’s Sam Wyche and Boomer Esiason (1988)
- Buffalo’s Marv Levy and Jim Kelly (1990)
- Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher and Steve McNair (1999)
- Atlanta’s Mike Smith and Matt Ryan (2012)
- Carolina’s Ron Rivera and Cam Newton (2015)
Harbaugh relates well to this as his 2012 Super Bowl win came in his fifth year as Joe Flacco’s coach. The two would win one more playoff game together the rest of the way.
In the last two years in the NFL, teams won the Super Bowl with quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford) in their first year with the team. Immediate results.
Ravens Might Have to Make a Choice
So, the championship happens within five years, or it doesn’t happen at all, and either the coach or quarterback needs to go. The Buffalo Bills, the preseason favorite in the AFC, are facing the same situation with Sean McDermott and Josh Allen going into their fifth season together. Buffalo eliminated Baltimore in the playoffs in 2020, a 17-3 dud for the offenses.
If the Ravens have to pick between the coach and quarterback, it probably will be the quarterback, especially if he signs a mega deal soon. Harbaugh could follow his mentor Andy Reid and take a job elsewhere after this long stint with the Ravens. But if Jackson, who seemingly holds the NFL record for COVID variants caught, continues to have durability issues with games missed, then it may be the coach who outlasts him.
Jackson is such a unique talent, and the Ravens are 38-15 with him as the starter, but the playoffs have been bad, and six of the 15 losses have been to either the Chiefs or a playoff game. Getting to a Super Bowl from the AFC is essentially impossible if you continue to struggle in the playoffs and against a main competitor like the Chiefs.
Jackson has also failed to impress against Pittsburgh’s defense, and the Ravens may have their hands full with the Cincinnati offense for years to come if 2021 is any indicator. Jackson showed improvement as an early-down passer last year and as someone who can carry the team with his arm, but he missed five starts.
His interception rate also went up to a career-high 3.4% while his yards per rush dropped for the second year in a row. Jackson has not had a 50-yard pass completion since the 2019 season.
Learn From History
With the AFC still looking for a power shift and welcoming Russell Wilson (Broncos) and Matt Ryan (Colts) to the conference, it is feasible that the Ravens have already blown their best opportunity to win a Super Bowl with Jackson and Harbaugh. That 2019 team had a special season but played terribly in the playoffs against Tennessee.
Once upon a time, Miami fans thought they would return to many Super Bowls with Don Shula and Dan Marino after the record-setting quarterback was MVP in 1984, his second season. Infamously, neither Marino nor Shula ever returned to the big game.
This could be the last real opportunity for Harbaugh and Jackson in Baltimore. Keep that in mind during the season.
Regression: Injuries and Defense
On the plus side, it would be nearly impossible for the Ravens to have more injuries this season than they did in 2021. According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens lost 191.2 adjusted player games to injury in 2021, the most of any team since 2000.
Beyond Jackson not finishing the season, running back and defensive back, two positions of greater importance to the Ravens than most teams, were especially hit hard.
The Ravens lost three key running backs before the season even started.
- J.K. Dobbins
- Gus Edwards
- Justice Hill
This would not be a huge deal for a lot of teams, but the Ravens heavily rely on the run. The good news is the running game still produced, thanks in large part to the quarterback position, but Dobbins and Edwards are likely still upgrades to 2021 runners Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman.
The Ravens only had four players start all 17 games, including tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who struggled and retired.
He should be replaced by veteran right tackle Morgan Moses this year. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley hopes to return after going down in Week 1 last season.
A Reduced Roster
In the secondary, corner Marlon Humphrey missed five games while safety DeShon Elliott missed 11 games. The Ravens also lost Marcus Peters, the ball-hawking corner, to a torn ACL before Week 1. He should be back this season, but the defense made sure to beef up the secondary by adding safety Marcus Williams (Saints) and corner Kyle Fuller (Broncos).
The Ravens were poor at creating splash plays on defense last season, finishing with just 34 sacks and 15 takeaways despite having a 17th game. Baltimore has played 26 seasons, and 2021 is only the third time the defense had fewer than 20 takeaways.
A healthier defense with better turnover luck sounds great, but it will also come with a new defensive coordinator after Don “Wink” Martindale was fired after four seasons in the position.
Once considered a head coaching candidate, the shine fell quickly from Martindale, and his comments about not needing to double team Ja’Marr Chase did not age well after the Bengals torched the Ravens for the second time last season.
Regression: Close Games
After playing a league-low five close games in both 2019 and 2020, the Ravens played a league-high 13 close games in 2021. A close game is defined as one where a team had possession of the ball in the fourth quarter or overtime with a one-score deficit.
The Ravens finished 6-7 in those games, but some of the fortunate bounces on field goals and a Kansas City fumble that led to wins feel less repeatable than the struggles to convert high-risk two-point conversions.
The good news is this number of close games should regress to the mean in 2022, so the Ravens should not be involved in as many nail-biters.
They also should not keep losing every game by 1-to-3 points like they did down the stretch to miss the playoffs.
The Marquise Brown Trade
The Ravens made some headlines on draft night in April when they traded No. 1 wide receiver Marquise Brown to the Cardinals to move up to the No. 23 pick. After another trade with Buffalo, the Ravens eventually used the No. 25 pick on center Tyler Linderbaum, a likely Week 1 starter this year but not another receiver.
Brown was going into his fourth season with the team and set career highs in catches (91) and yards (1,008) last year.
He had some frustrating drops at times, but it’s still a considerable loss with the team also not bringing back veteran Sammy Watkins.
Ravens Need to Make Up for This Loss
Brown is a loss that will have to be made up by last year’s first-round pick, wideout Rashod Bateman. The Ravens can still go through tight end Mark Andrews as their leading receiver after he was an All-Pro with 1,361 yards last year, but Bateman is the new No. 1 wideout.
His rookie season was a little encouraging with 515 yards in 12 games, but he only had one touchdown and he had his only 100-yard game in the Cleveland game that Jackson was injured.
The Ravens are on a list of teams with the Titans (A.J. Brown), Chiefs (Tyreek Hill), and Packers (Davante Adams) who traded away their No. 1 wide receiver this offseason in daring moves. Baltimore is in better shape to make up for the loss, but Bateman is going to have to be a breakout player in 2022.
2022 Ravens Prediction
After losing the closest division race in the league last year, the Ravens are in a great position to go from last to first in the AFC North.
The Ravens should get at least three or four wins from the division, and they can feast on the easiest games on the schedule against the likes of the Jaguars, Jets, Giants, Panthers, and Falcons.
Baltimore should also match up well with teams such as Denver, Miami, and New Orleans.
Unless the future holds a stronger variant of COVID (or monkeypox) that derails Jackson’s season, this team should be one of the best NFL picks to hit the over this year.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.
On the Last Season of “The Ravens”: Best Drama for Non-Playoff Team
Expectations were high for the Ravens after winning the first playoff game of the Lamar Jackson era in 2020. But after losing multiple starters to injury in the summer before the season even started, there was a wait-and-see approach to how the Ravens would respond.
In the end, Baltimore has a strong case for having the most dramatic regular season of any NFL team in 2021. The Ravens played a league-high 13 close games and early on it was mostly wins during a 5-1 start.
Baltimore did lose an overtime game in Las Vegas in Week 1, but the Ravens finally conquered Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Week 2 after forcing running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire to lose the first fumble of his career in a 36-35 win.
A week later in Detroit, the struggling Ravens caught an even bigger break when the officials missed a delay of game penalty in the final seconds.
Justin Tucker further enhanced his case for the greatest kicker of all time by getting a favorable bounce on a 66-yard field goal, the new NFL record for longest kick, to help the Ravens escape with a 19-17 win.
On a Hot Streak
Against Denver, a meaningless rushing play late in the game caught the Ravens some heat as they were trying to tie a record for the most consecutive 100-yard rushing games (43) as a team in NFL history despite winning 23-7 at the time.
A week later on Monday Night Football against the Colts, that streak did in fact end, as the Ravens only rushed for 86 yards. But despite trailing 25-9 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens rallied behind Jackson’s first 400-yard passing game to force overtime after the Colts missed a 47-yard field goal that would have won the game.
Jackson threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Marquise Brown in overtime for a wild 31-25 win. It was the first time in his career that Jackson threw for at least 300 yards in consecutive games.
The Ravens then smashed a hot Chargers team in a 34-6 rout to take some shine off the start for Brandon Staley and company. Despite the injuries, things were looking well for the Ravens at 5-1, albeit after some fortunate bounces on fumbles and field goals.
The Slump Begins
In hosting the Bengals in Week 7, the Ravens were dumbfounded in their first attempt at defending the new passing combination of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. The rookie receiver had 201 of Burrow’s 416 passing yards as the Bengals cruised to a 41-17 win.
After beating Minnesota in overtime, the Ravens bombed in Miami in prime time after Jackson was sacked four times and harassed by the front seven.
He ended up missing the next game against Chicago and returned against Cleveland with a brutal outing where he threw a career-high four interceptions. But the Ravens still won the game thanks to their defense, which fell out of the top 10 for the first time since 2015.
Baltimore was 8-3 with a shot at the No. 1 seed, but the season was about to unravel.
The Losing Streak
In Pittsburgh in Week 13, the Ravens played another close game with their hated rival. After a late touchdown drive that could have forced overtime, the Ravens opted to go for two to take the lead with 12 seconds left. It was a risky move, but a defendable one. Jackson’s pass was influenced by T.J. Watt’s rush and the Ravens lost the game 20-19.
A week later in Cleveland, Jackson was lost for the season after an ankle injury knocked him out in the first quarter.
With backup Tyler Huntley, the Ravens remained competitive with some of the best teams in the league, and they may have discovered a quality backup quarterback in the process.
The Losses Kept Coming
But the close losses kept coming. The Ravens lost 24-22 to Cleveland, 31-30 to Green Bay after a more ill-advised two-point conversion attempt failed with 42 seconds to play, and they would also lose 20-19 to the Rams and 16-13 in overtime to the Steelers in Ben Roethlisberger’s final win of his career.
Baltimore tied for the league lead with four blown leads in the fourth quarter or overtime. The Ravens had five losses by a combined eight points late in the season.
In the only game that wasn’t close, the Ravens showed poor hubris by underestimating what Burrow and Chase would do in a rematch. This time, Chase had 125 yards and no touchdowns, but Burrow torched the secondary for 525 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-21 rout.
With the Bengals going to the Super Bowl after a masterful sweep of the Ravens, 2022 is a statement season for the Ravens to show they are still a team to beat in this division.