BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-7)
New faces: QB Lamar Jackson, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Willie Snead, TE Hayden Hurst, QB Robert Griffin III, WR John Brown, defensive coordinator Don Martindale.
Key losses: WR Jeremy Maclin, WR Mike Wallace, RB Danny Woodhead, CB Lardarius Webb, WR Michael Campanaro, TE Benjamin Watson, RB Terrance West, QB Ryan Mallett, defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
Strengths: Defense kept Ravens in playoff hunt until final game of season. Baltimore led NFL with 22 interceptions, 34 takeaways and three shutouts. Ravens allowed 18.9 points per game, sixth best in league, but that also faltered in latter stages of 39-38 loss to Pittsburgh and crushing 31-27 defeat against Cincinnati in finale. Terrell Suggs had 11 sacks last year and still looks strong at age 36. Brandon Carr led DBs with four INTs, and must come up big while CB Jimmy Smith opens season serving four-game suspension.
Weaknesses: Offense sputtered last season, and there are no guarantees new receiving corps and rejuvenated QB Joe Flacco will make difference. Flacco averaged meager 5.72 yards per attempt, threw 13 INTs and was sacked 27 times. Return of guard Marshal Yanda, who missed 14 games with leg injury, could give Flacco protection he sorely needs. Addition of Crabtree, Snead and Brown can only help offense that ranked 29th in yards passing last year.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Brown. Speedster gives Ravens deep threat missing since Torrey Smith was sprinting downfield in 2013. Brown signed one-year contract in hopes of showing rest of league he’s more like player who amassed 1,003 yards with Arizona in 2015 than injury-riddled receiver who last year had 21 catches for 299 yards with Cardinals.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 50-1. Over/under wins 8.5.
Expectations: Ravens haven’t reached playoffs in three straight years, longest dry spell since 1990s. General manager Ozzie Newsome, who enters final year before handing reins to Eric DeCosta, has assembled team capable of threatening Pittsburgh in AFC North. For that to happen, Flacco must return to form and get some help from set of receivers that represents upgrade from 2017 group. Martindale promises to deliver aggressive defense after earning promotion from LB coach. It’s worth noting, however, that Martindale hasn’t been defensive coordinator since 2010 with Denver, when team gave up more yards and points than any.
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