Baltimore Ravens: 5 Bold Predictions for the 2011 NFL Season
The Baltimore Ravens have been perennial playoff shoo-ins the past few years in the AFC North.
This year looks to be no different with the Ravens hoping to top their division and make a bid for the Super Bowl.
With the close loss to the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, the Ravens are looking to come back with a vengeance.
Here are some bold predictions for the Ravens' 2011-12 season.
Ray Lewis Will Have Another 100-Plus Solo Tackles Season
There is no doubt who the backbone of the Ravens team is: Ray Lewis.
The nightmarish linebacker has not slowed down his motor over his 15-season career and continues to outperform most of his younger counterparts in his position.
At 36, his chances of getting another Super Bowl ring are waning, but the Ravens are poised to have one of their best seasons, and I expect Ray Lewis to lead the defensive push for the team.
Lewis had one of his better seasons of the past five years last season, recording 102 solo tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
I expect more of the same passion from Lewis this year as he tries to will his team to the top once again.
The Ravens Will Sweep Both Regular-Season Games Against the Steelers
The opening week for the Ravens will be stellar.
Playing on September 11th at their home field against the Steelers, I expect them to come out with all guns blazing.
The disappointing loss in the playoffs will still be fresh in the Ravens' mind and Joe Flacco will play with resolve and precision.
The Ravens will ride this momentum through to their game at Pittsburgh and place themselves in prime position for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Jimmy Smith Will Have an Immediate Impact
Jimmy Smith was an excellent choice for the Ravens first pick.
GM Ozzie Newsome said this about Smith when asked which rookie would have the biggest impact:
"I think Jimmy will have the biggest, and I kind of hope so because [owner] Steve [Bisciotti] wants me to be right on this one. So, I need for Jimmy to have the biggest impact this year."
Smith has all the tools to be an immediate presence on the field and establish his reputation as a shutdown corner.
Newsome said: "Jimmy’s impact may not be in interceptions, [pass breakups] or a bunch of tackles. It might be that people get to the point very early on into the season not to throw at him. When that happens, that will allow our defense to do a lot of creative things.”
Smith's size and ability will open up a lot of other areas for the Ravens on defense.
The Ravens Will Be a One of the More Prepared Teams Post-Lockout
The NFL Lockout has been haunting all the teams this season.
A players-only practice took place last week as they are set on performing well with each other this season.
Joe Flacco, when asked about his rookie players, stated: "The young guys are staying at a hotel and I'm staying with them."
Ray Lewis' charismatic interview on ESPN, in which he gave his opinion of the lockout, shows the resolve the leaders of the team have while overcoming the struggles from the lockout.
The Ravens Will Clinch AFC North and Go to the AFC Championship
With a strong regular season showing, I predict the Ravens will clinch the AFC North and secure home-field advantage for the playoffs.
They will then make it to at least the AFC championship game for the first time since their loss to the Steelers in 2009.
The main concern this season will be if the offensive line will be able to be strong, secure a run game and protect Flacco, who was sacked more times last season than any other.
Newsome has strengthened the offensive line with the drafting of NFL-ready tackle Jah Reid out of UCF.
If their line can hold up, will a Super Bowl be waiting in the wings?
Only time will tell, but I expect an extremely strong showing from this high-powered team this season.