Baltimore Ravens: Best and Worst Predictions from 2012
After a full year of writing about the Ravens, I made plenty of predictions this year. Some were spot-on, and some were embarrassing. Most fell in between.
In a league such as the NFL, making predictions from season to season is nearly impossible. NFL stands for "Not For Long" after all. That makes my good predictions a source of pride.
Of course, there were some things that I completely missed. I'm more than willing to admit when I'm wrong. Feel free to gloat in the comments if you called something that I missed.
To recap 2012, here are my best and worst predictions of the year.
Best: Joe Flacco Not Important in Ravens' AFC Championship Loss
Going into the 2012 AFC Championship Game, most pundits and fans were talking about Joe Flacco. He was coming off a mediocre performance against the Houston Texans, and they thought Flacco's time to step up had come.
They were right in a way, but I didn't view it that way. I didn't care how Joe Flacco did: the game would come down to the Ravens' ability to run the ball and control the clock, as I said here.
Sure enough, Joe Flacco outperformed everyone's wildest expectations, but the Ravens' running game averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.
Despite the rushing troubles, Flacco was one dropped pass away from the Super Bowl. I didn't see that coming, but I recognized that the spotlight was put too firmly on Flacco. I'll give myself a pat on the back for that.
Worst: Mock Drafts
I did three mock drafts for the Ravens in 2012. I didn't get a single pick right in any of them.
You can check out the mocks here, here and here. My three top picks were Peter Konz (x2), the center from Wisconsin and Dont'a Hightower, the linebacker from Alabama. To be fair, the Ravens were very interested in Hightower, who was snatched up by the Patriots.
Even so, my mock drafts were not my best work of 2012. I will stand by my logic for every pick, but not getting any of them right hurts.
Best: A Breakout Season from Paul Kruger
Way back in March, I said that linebacker Paul Kruger was a candidate to break out for the Ravens in this article.
I pointed to his athleticism and size, which were ideal for the position, as reasons for optimism.
This prediction was right in the end, but my logic was off. I claimed that Terrell Suggs would command so much attention that Kruger would be the beneficiary with a big season opposite him.
In fact, Kruger was much more impressive than that prediction indicated. With Suggs injured for most of the season, and hobbled for the rest of it, Kruger was forced to deal with double-teams all season.
Kruger still had a breakout season, but it wasn't because of any of the reasons I mentioned. What changed for Kruger was his hand use and his burst, the two most important facets of the game for a pass-rusher.
Every young defensive lineman should watch Kruger's hands: They are a blur as he sheds blockers. The Ravens' coaching staff struggled to develop young defensive talent this year, but they did a great job on Kruger. Calling him a breakout candidate is a win in my book.
Worst: Ray Rice Would Be Too Expensive for Ravens to Re-Sign
I'm a big Ray Rice fan, but I don't worship him. In fact, I underestimated Rice's character when I expected him to demand a mega-deal in this article.
My projected deal for Rice was for five years and $50 million. I viewed that as way too much money for any running back, let alone one not named Adrian Peterson.
Turns out, Rice re-signed for just $35 million over five years, a more than fair deal for a top-tier running back.
Instead of setting the franchise back, like I thought re-signing Rice would, the Ravens secured their future at a relative bargain. Shame on me for thinking Rice would be driven by greed instead of wins.
Best: Justin Tucker Would Outperform Billy Cundiff
As soon as Billy Cundiff missed the game-tying field goal in the AFC Championship Game, I called for his job. I had nothing personal against Cundiff, but the Ravens deserve a kicker who makes that kick.
Enter Justin Tucker, the strong-legged rookie who gave fans hope for a new kicker. I saw Tucker's potential almost immediately. His game-winning kick in college to beat Texas A&M showed Tucker can hit the clutch kick. His career accuracy in college was also far better than Cundiff's in the pros.
Sure enough, Tucker out-kicked Cundiff throughout camp, displaying a stronger and more accurate leg. I called for Tucker to be the kicker in this article, and I don't regret that prediction one bit.
Worst: Ravens Would Stick with Billy Cundiff Anyway
I had little faith in the Ravens over the offseason, as they are a franchise that values continuity over upside. With that in mind, I expected the Ravens to keep the mediocre Billy Cundiff over Tucker, though I thought Tucker was far better, as I said in this article.
My logic was that if the Ravens truly wanted to replace Cundiff, they would have added one of the many solid veteran kickers available in free agency. Neil Rackers and Shayne Graham stood out as guys that would have made sense.
By going with a rookie free agent, I thought the Ravens were giving tacit approval to Cundiff. I never expected the Ravens to go with a rookie over Cundiff, no matter how much better that rookie was.
I was wrong. The Ravens impressed me by going with skill over experience, giving the job to Tucker.
Best: Ravens' Special Teams Would Be Vastly Improved
This might not have been my toughest prediction, but I was spot-on when I claimed that the Ravens' special teams would be vastly improved in this article.
The Ravens had added a kick-returner, a kicker and several coverage guys. They were making special teams a focus, and I knew it would produce results.
Sure enough, Jacoby Jones is heading to the Pro Bowl as the AFC's returner, Justin Tucker missed just three field goals this season and the Ravens' coverage units are among the NFL's best.
Worst: The Ravens Would Have the NFL's Best Secondary
Looking back, I can't believe I wrote this article. That's how off this prediction was.
At the time, though, it made sense. The Ravens returned all four starters from one of 2011's best pass defenses, and Jimmy Smith would only improve over time, or so I thought.
That's not how it worked out. Ed Reed regressed badly this season, Lardarius Webb missed half the season and Jimmy Smith proved to be a complete bust.
Meanwhile, Cary Williams was completely misused at the beginning of the season, playing too far off the ball to respond to quick routes. Jimmy Smith experienced a similar problem.
Webb did play well before his season-ending injury, and Pollard and Williams had their moments. Even Corey Graham was solid as a starter toward the end of the season.
Reed's and Smith's regressions were not something I envisioned. While Reed remains at least average, though, Smith is one of the NFL's worst cornerbacks. He has no clue how to cover an NFL receiver without getting penalized, and that will never change. Smith is a bust.
With Webb returning next year, there is reason for optimism in the Ravens' secondary. This year, though, my worst prediction was that this secondary would be great.
Best: Stat Predictions
Early-season stat predictions are relatively meaningless, but they are a fun exercise nonetheless. I gave my predictions in this article, knowing that they'd probably be well off the reality.
Turns out, I did better than I expected.
I projected Joe Flacco to throw for 3,800 yards with an 89.0 passer rating. In reality, Flacco threw for 3,817 yards with an 87.7 passer rating. Not too bad of a prediction there.
For Ray Rice, I projected 1,100 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. In reality, Rice racked up 1,143 and nine touchdowns. Through the air, I projected 65 catches for 560 yards. Rice actually had 61 catches for 478. Again, pretty close.
I won't toot my own horn too much for these predictions, since they are really just shots in the dark. To hit a few of those shots, though, feels pretty good.
I had a few other good predictions that weren't quite as important, but are still worth noting.
Back when the Ravens were 6-2, I projected them to finish 9-7 and squeaking into the playoffs in this article. Most commenters claimed I was way off, with most projecting 12-4. I had the last laugh, as the Ravens' finished 10-6.
I also was calling Jimmy Smith a bust relatively early compared to most pundits. I called for Corey Graham to start over Smith in this article earlier in the month. Since then, Smith has been exposed and has gotten few snaps.
Let's end 2012 on a good note though. I can be a bit of a pessimist on the Ravens, but I did project the Ravens to come back from their three-game losing streak with a win over the New York Giants. In this article, I claimed that the Ravens' offense never stays down for long. I was right on, as the Ravens had their best offensive performance of the season in Week 16.
2013 will undoubtedly bring more predictions from me, both good and bad. Hopefully, I can have a little more success with mock drafts, but I don't expect my stat predictions to be as close as they were this year. Only time will tell.