2013-14 NFL Futures: Can the Baltimore Ravens Repeat?

joe-flaccoWhen the 2012-13 NFL season began, most people thought that the Baltimore Ravens would be a competitive team. However, few experts predicted them to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy last February, especially given the strong seasons that Denver, New England, San Francisco and Atlanta had.

Nevertheless, the aging Wild Card Ravens stormed through the playoffs and on towards the Super Bowl XLVII title. Now the big question remains whether Baltimore can experience Super Bowl success two years in a row.

At this point, most experts aren’t convinced that they’ll become the eighth team in NFL history to repeat as champions. The big reason why is roster turnover since Baltimore has lost a number of key players from last year’s championship squad.

For starters, the team’s best possession receiver, Anquan Boldin, went to the San Francisco 49ers. The offense will also miss starting center Matt Birk, who went out on top by retiring this offseason.

ed-reedLosses on the other side of the ball are even more noteworthy because starting safeties Ed Reed (Houston) and Bernard Pollard (Tennessee Titans) both departed via free agency. Other key players moving on to other teams include linebackers Paul Kruger (Cleveland) and Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins) as well as cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia).

As if all of this isn’t enough, Baltimore lost the heart and soul of their team when franchise legend Ray Lewis retired. No. 52 only played six regular season games and recorded 57 tackles due to a triceps injury. However, he came back for the playoffs and was an inspirational force, helping guide his team to a Super Bowl win. So the question now is what’s left for the Ravens going into this year.

Everything begins with starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who signed a six-year, $120.6 million deal this past offseason. Flacco has always been consistent for the Ravens and put up solid numbers. However, he took things to the next level in last season’s playoffs after throwing for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in four games. Flacco was so clutch that he out-dueled more heralded QB’s throughout the playoffs like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

ray-rice-ravensAnother big piece that’ll be returning for Baltimore is running back Ray Rice. The sixth-year man out of Rutgers has consistently been one of the best rushers in the NFL, and this doesn’t look to change in 2013. He once again turned in a solid regular season after compiling 1,143 rushing yards, 478 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns.

The receiving corp will be somewhat of a mystery going into the season. Torrey Smith has served as a solid deep threat, having caught 49 balls for 855 yards and 8 TD’s last year. Jacoby Jones is another veteran who’ll be hoping to make an impact on the Ravens’ passing game. He caught 30 passes for 406 yards last year with the Houston Texans.

Recent additions Brandon Stokely (via Denver) and Dallas Clark could also be seeing some passes thrown their way. The latter was signed in an effort to replace injured tight ends Dennis Pitta (hip) and Ed Dickson (hamstring). As for Stokely, the 37-year-old proved to be ageless after catching 45 passes for 544 yards and 5 touchdowns in his lone Denver season.

Elvis Dumervil, John Harbaugh, Don MartindaleMoving to the defensive side, Baltimore has picked up a large number of key additions to replace their losses. Elvis Dumervil landed with the Ravens after his agent made a fax machine error during contract proceedings with the Broncos. Dumervil brings his 11.0 sacks from last season to Baltimore and should once again be a force on the edge.

Other new faces include Chris Canty (New York Giants), Marcus Spears (Cowboys), linebacker Daryl Smith (Jacksonville), safety Michael Huff (Oakland) in addition to draft picks like K-State linebacker (Arthur Brown) and Florida safety Matt Elam.

One more point worth making about the Ravens D is that Terrell Suggs will be healthy this year. Suggs missed a large majority of 2012 with a torn Achilles tendon, but did manage to return for the latter part of the season. Now healthy and playing opposite Dumervil, he should have a fantastic 2013.

Baltimore could feature as many as seven new starters on defense, which is scary when you’re trying to repeat as Super Bowl champions. However, many people think that this team has gotten younger and faster on D.

Last year’s aging core didn’t exactly tear it up in the regular season after finishing 12th in scoring defense (21.5), 15th in sacks (37) and 17th in YPG allowed (350.9). With the diminishment of Reed and Lewis’ athletic ability, it wasn’t going to be long anyways before Baltimore needed to upgrade on defense.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is one guy who’s definitely excited about the younger defense that his club will feature. “You have to face the fact the game is changing from an offensive standpoint, with more spread offenses and more read-option,” he said. “You have to become more athletic and you have to have people who can change direction and move and accelerate. I think our moves allow us to play that style of game on defense. And also, with some of our new guys in the secondary, with Matt (Elam), Dig and Michael Huff, we’ve got guys who can match up and play man to man, and that means you don’t have to be substituting all the time.”

There’s definitely been a lot of change and turnover in Baltimore this offseason. However, the team appears confident that they can contend for another Super Bowl title. Of course, pulling off another magical postseason run like last year won’t be an easy task for this club.

Last Chance to bet on the 2013 Super Bowl

As many of you may now, Super Bowl XLVII is set to kick off in just a few hours at 6:30 PM (EST). This being said, there’s not a whole lot of time left to place bets if you’re interested in doing so. But GTbets.eu is still offering lines on the game, which means you still have some time to get action on the 2013 Super Bowl.

For those just looking to place a wager on whether the Baltimore Ravens or San Francisco 49ers will win, we thoroughly discussed the matter right here. Our general consensus was that the 49ers will come out on top and a money line wager should be directed towards them.

However, the point spread, which currently has San Francisco favored at -4, is a different story. The Ravens have won two straight games where they were an underdog and should keep this contest close as well. So we think that they have a strong shot to cover the +4 spread bet they’re carrying. In regard to some of the 2013 Super Bowl prop bets, we’ve listed a few of these below along with advice on each one.

First Sack of the Game
Ravens (+110)
49ers (-140)
Advice: The Ravens D-line and linebacking core haven’t been the fearsome pass rushers that they were in past years (37 total sacks in 2013). But San Francisco only tallied one more sack than this in the regular season and they’ve been comparatively quiet during the postseason (2 sacks). However, we like the -140 money line here and think the Niners are the best pick.

First Turnover of the Game will be
Interception (-130)
Fumble
(even)
Both of these teams have made their way to Super Bowl XLVII by not making mistakes. But when it comes to this prop bet, we think that the first turnover will probably be a fumble. Niners QB Colin Kaepernick has thrown just one INT in his two playoff games and has excellent protection upfront. And Ravens signal caller Joe Flacco has yet to throw an interception in his three postseason contests. So based on the 0.20 interceptions per game average between these two, expect a fumble before a pick.

First Rushing TD
BAL RB Bernard Pierce (8:1 odds)
SF QB Colin Kaepernick (5:1 odds)
SF RB Frank Gore (2:1 odds)
SF RB LaMichael James (7:1 odds)
BAL RB Ray Rice (3:1 odds)
Field – a.k.a. All Others (10:1 odds)
No Rushing Touchdowns (15:2 odds)

San Francisco has put up seven rushing touchdowns in two games this postseason, and they’re the Super Bowl favorites. This being said, we definitely like them to hit pay dirt on the ground first against a softer-than-usual Baltimore defense. The only question we have here is if Gore or Kaepernick will be running into the end zone first. Seeing as how the latter has two rushing TD’s in the playoffs and offers a 5:1 payout, we like the Kaepernick bet over Gore, who’s scored three rushing TD’s, but only offers a 2:1 payout.

There are lots of other Super Bowl prop bets at GTbets.eu, so make sure to visit their site and make a wager before the game kicks off at 6:30 PM.

Baltimore has been an Extremely Popular Super Bowl Bet

Pretty much everybody doubted the Baltimore Ravens’ ability to make Super Bowl XLVII – let alone get past the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. However, things have completely changed since people are not only believing in Baltimore now, but also betting on them at sportsbooks.

According to the Los Angeles Times, two-thirds of sports bettors have wagered on the Ravens to beat the point spread. Because of this, the original line of +5 has now fallen to +3 1/2. In a year where NFL playoff favorites have went 8-2 in covering the spread, Baltimore represents the two favorites’ losses.

That said, it’s no wonder why the Ravens are drawing such heavy action. R.J. Bell of Pregame.com discussed this with the LA Times by saying, This is kind of a surprise – 65% of the bets so far have been on the underdog Ravens. That’s very unusual in the NFL.”

While people may be wagering on the underdog, San Francisco is still expected to take home the Lombardi Trophy on February 3rd. But this game certainly won’t be a blowout…at least in our opinion. That said, you can check out our take on the 2013 Super Bowl as well as a final score prediction below.

San Francisco Team Strengths – We’ll start with the first and most obvious factor here: Colin Kaepernick. The second year QB has ignited the 49ers since taking over the starting job. Despite being just a second year player, he’s been especially good in the playoffs after throwing for 496 yards and three TD’s, while adding another 202 yards and two TD’s on the ground. He’s also been sacked just once in the last five games, which should prove difficult for a Ravens pass rush that’s fallen off from greatness.

Another big plus for 49ers is their rushing attack, which features Kaepernick and Frank Gore, who’s rushed for 209 yards and three touchdowns in two playoff games. Considering how Baltimore is giving up 128.3 RYPG during the postseason, we can expect to see San Francisco rush for plenty of first downs.

San Francisco also sports a pretty solid pass rush, led by Aldon Smith and his 19.5 sacks. Expect Ahmad Brooks (6.5 sacks) to apply some pressure in this contest too. One more big strength that the Niners have is their offensive line, which should give Kaepernick plenty of time to throw in his first Super Bowl.

Baltimore Team Strengths – Much of the offensive focus right now is on quarterback Joe Flacco, and deservedly so. Following a solid campaign in which he threw for 3,817 yards, 22 TD’s and 10 INT’s, Flacco has stepped it up a notch in the playoffs. In three postseason outings, the Delaware product has accumulated 853 passing yards, 8 TD’s and no interceptions.

Running back Ray Rice figures to play a huge role in Super Bowl XLVII. He’s a true dual threat as evidenced by the 1,143 rushing yards and 61 catches he had in the regular season. Rice will by far be the toughest dual threat RB that San Francisco has faced this year. When he checks out of the game, the 49ers won’t get much of a break because the backup, Bernard Pierce, is averaging 56.3 RYPG and 6.3 yards per carry in the playoffs.

Kicker Justin Tucker has been pretty clutch throughout the season; he’s made both field goals in the playoffs, and was 30-for-33 in the regular season.

Keep an eye on WR Torrey Smith (855RYDS, 8TD) during the Super Bowl since he figures to be this game’s only true deep threat. Also don’t forget about the emotional boost that franchise linebacker Ray Lewis will provide to his teammates in his final game.

Super Bowl XLVII Prediction: San Francisco 31 – Baltimore 27

The strengths seem to be split pretty evenly among these teams. The Flacco-Kaepernick duel should be quite fun to watch, Frank Gore vs. Ray Rice will be close, and both defenses are pretty solid all-around. However, we think that the offensive line of the 49ers will hold up pretty well against the Ravens’ D-line. Also, look for San Francisco to put more pressure on Flacco than he’s seen in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Protecting Flacco against Indianapolis, New England and Denver was nothing compared to what the Niners will bring.

NFL Power Rankings for Jan. 11th, 2013

Last week marked a not-so-exciting first round of the 2013 NFL playoffs. Only the Cincinnati Bengals/Houston Texans game was close…but the way that QB Andy Dalton played, it wasn’t really that close. This being said, we expect a little more entertaining action this weekend – especially in the two NFC playoff games. Now here’s a look at our rankings of all the playoff teams – included the eliminated ones.

1. Denver Broncos (1st seed in AFC) – Denver has the ever-important home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which will no doubt be huge if they make the AFC Championship game. Next up is the Ravens in what promises to be a very chilly contest (predicted low of 6 degrees). Peyton Manning’s passing could be a little more limited in such cold weather, but the Broncos are truly a complete team with how Knowshon Moreno is running.

Last Game: Bye
Next Game: vs. Baltimore Ravens

2. New England Patriots (2nd seed in AFC) – The big question for the Patriots will be if their bend-but-don’t-break defense can hold up throughout the playoffs. It should definitely hold up against the Houston Texans, which relied far too much on Arian Foster to carry them past the Bengals. Also, Tom Brady shouldn’t have the same troubles moving the ball against Houston as Dalton did.

Last Game: Bye
Next Game: vs. Houston Texans

3. Atlanta Falcons (1st seed in NFC) – The Falcons definitely need home field advantage against their visiting opponent – the streaking Seattle Seahawks. They’ll have to do a better job of containing Marshawn Lynch than they did in their final regular season game against Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (142 RYDS). DE John Abraham and CB Dunta Robinson should be able to play in this game, despite leaving the Tampa Bay contest with injuries.

Last Game: Bye
Next Game: vs. Seattle Seahawks

4. Seattle Seahawks (5th seed in NFC) – Nobody has played better than Seattle over the past few weeks, and the momentum carried into the playoffs against Washington. Now they’ll be looking to win their second straight road game, which should prove a lot tougher against the NFC’s top seed. Much of this game will depend upon QB Russell Wilson and his ability to continue playing great football.

Last Game: 24-14 win over Washington Redskins
Next Game: vs. Atlanta Falcons

5. Green Bay Packers (3rd seed in NFC) – The Packers had little trouble handling division rival Minnesota in their Wild Card matchup. Of course, things were a little easier on Green Bay since they faced backup QB Joe Webb, who connected on just 11 of 30 passes. They’ll get no such gift on the road against San Francisco this week.

Last Game: 24-10 win over Minnesota Vikings
Next Game: at San Francisco 49ers

6. San Francisco (2nd seed in NFC) – It’ll be interesting to see how Colin Kaepernick handles starting in his first career playoff game. At least he’ll have home field advantage as he faces the Packers. The Niners’ secondary is really going to be stretched as they try to slow down QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay passing attack.

Last Game: Bye
Next Game: vs. Green Bay Packers

7. Houston Texans (3rd seed in AFC) – The Texans entered the playoffs on a real down-note after losing 3 of their final 4 regular season games. This bad run also cost them the AFC’s top seed, which could prove fatal as they travel to Foxborough this Sunday. On a positive note, the Houston defense was stellar after harassing the Bengals’ Andy Dalton all game; he completed just 14 of 30 passes for 127 yards.

Last Game: 19-13 win over Cincinnati Bengals
Next Game: at New England Patriots

8. Baltimore Ravens (4th seed in AFC) – We actually ranked Baltimore last among the 12 playoff teams in our previous power rankings; they’d lost four out of their final five regular season contests at this point. However, the Ravens surprised us after easily handling the Colts at home. Rookie Benard Pierce ran for 103 yards on just 13 carries while Anquan Boldin was the star with 145 receiving yards and a touchdown. We are still very skeptical about Baltimore’s chances heading into a road game against Denver though.

Last Game: 24-9 win over Indianapolis Colts
Next Game: at Denver Broncos

9. Washington Redskins (4th seed in NFC) – Washington tops our list of eliminated playoff teams. This is certainly no consolation to the Redskins though as they’ll have a very long offseason to think about what could have been. Robert Griffin III quickly tossed two touchdowns to put Washington up 14-0. However, he would hurt his knee shortly thereafter, which is when things began spiraling downward. He remained in the game despite noticeably limping and injured his knee even worse in the fourth quarter. Following ACL and LCL surgery this week, it’s possible that Griffin could miss all of next season.

Last Game: 24-14 loss to Seattle Seahawks
– Eliminated from playoffs

10. Minnesota Vikings (6th seed in NFC) – Many people talked about how Minnesota was a one-dimensional team heading into the postseason. And they truly lived up to this billing when starting QB Christian Ponder didn’t play due to an elbow injury. Joe Webb couldn’t seem to complete a pass until he hit Michael Jenkins for a meaningless 50-yard touchdown – leaving the entire offensive burden on Adrian Peterson (22CAR, 99RYDS). It’s too bad we couldn’t have seen how the Vikings fared with their starting QB available.

Last Game: 24-10 loss to Green Bay Packers
– Eliminated from playoffs

11. Indianapolis Colts (5th seed in AFC) – Unlike a lot of other sites, we were pretty high on the Colts entering the playoffs. However, all of their ugly defensive qualities surfaced in one game against the Ravens after giving up almost 200 rushing yards to Ray Rice/Bernard Pierce along with 145 receiving yards to Boldin. The Indianapolis offense couldn’t find the end zone either as they mustered just three field goals.

Last Game: 24-9 loss to Baltimore Ravens
– Eliminated from playoffs

12. Cincinnati Bengals (6th seed in AFC) – The only real reason why Cincinnati threatened Houston was because of CB Leon Hall’s interception return right before hafltime. This would be the only touchdown that the Bengals got as their offense struggled terribly under Dalton (127PYDS, 1INT). It’s got to be tough for Dalton since he’s now choked in his only two playoff games.

Last Game: 19-13 loss to Houston Texans
– Eliminated from playoffs