1) What do you think the Ravens will finish?
Luke Jones: The Ravens face a difficult stretch of three straight road games, starting this Sunday in Cleveland. If they can go 2-1 against Cleveland, Houston, and the New York Giants, they will put themselves in position to contend for a playoff spot.
Facing the impressive NFC East will allow the Ravens to show what they’re made of. A 2-2 record against New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Dallas would impress and put them in contention. They also face difficult home games against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville at the end of the season.
Considering the injuries to the offensive line and secondary, 9-7 would be a realistic goal and would exceed the expectations of most people entering the season. Given the competitive balance of the AFC this season, this would allow the Ravens to contend for the playoffs, quite a feat for a team with a rookie quarterback and coming off a 5-11 season a year ago.
Isaac Barrow: The Ravens have must-win games, so to speak, coming up against Cleveland and Detroit. Why? They will face the whole NFC East later in the season and aren't likely to win many of those.
I'd be impressed if they win one or two of those games. They can easily beat Philadelphia and could probably beat Dallas, seeing their performance as of late. They could even upset New York or Washington. They also have a game that was rescheduled and will play Houston.
I'd be rather impressed with eight wins and eight losses. Last year, the Ravens were 5-11 and were the one in the Dolphins 1-15. They are impressing me so far this year. Joe Flacco has shown incredible poise. One could argue he is playing better then Matt Ryan. I, for one, think he is. He has led a team from 5-11 to 4-3 and almost beat Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh on MNF, where Pitt hasn't lost since 1995.
Lawrence Barreca: The question on where the Ravens will finish depends on both the performance of Baltimore and of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams have challenges along the way, especially since they were scheduled before the year to play the most dominant division in football, the NFC East. If I had to make a prediction, I say barring any Steelers' meltdown, the Ravens finish 2nd in the division, but make a run and possibly win the Wild Card.
Sean O'Brien: I would say 9-7 is a realistic finish for this team. With games against Cleveland, Dallas, NY (the good one), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington coming up pretty much anything could happen. Them getting even 3 wins out of that schedule would be impressive.
Their offense seems to be getting more and more confident each game and in all but one of their losses they've shown heart and resilience. Their defense has played very consistently and I can only hope they keep this pace up.
A trip to the playoffs seems to be within reach and I'll be rooting for them the whole way.
How will the Ravens finish? I'm going to have to agree with Luke and Sean on this one. 9-7 sounds about right. Maybe we pull an upset on one of the NFC Beast teams (hopefully the Skins) and wind up at 10-6.
The three consecutive road games will be tough. We have had success in Cleveland in the past, but they are playing more like last season then they were when we played them earlier this season.
I wish we had played Houston when we were supposed to because they were terrible earlier in the season. They are starting to improve and may present a problem but we should be able to get by them. Not to mention we could really use a bye week now to get some guys a little healthier.
Going to NY (really NJ) to play the Giants may be the toughest challenge we've had thus far. They are the defending champs and are playing like it, despite the loss of Strahan and Umenyiora, their defense is still monstrous and are leading the league in sacks. Our offensive line most hold up and protect Flacco.
2) What will Joe Flacco's stats as a rookie look like?
Luke Jones: Flacco’s poise and confidence as a rookie has to excite Ravens fans that have yearned for a franchise quarterback since the team’s inception in 1996. His calm demeanor is exactly what you want in a starting quarterback.
As for this season, Flacco simply lacks the weapons to really take the next step, production-wise. Though Derrick Mason is as reliable as they come in the short to intermediate range, the Ravens lack a receiver that can stretch the field, especially now that Demetrius Williams is on injured-reserve.
Flacco has clearly struggled when throwing beyond 12 or 13 yards. Part of this is due to inexperience, but the receivers’ lack of separation is a major reason why. Mark Clayton is too similar to Mason and cannot beat his man consistently.
Flacco’s season stats will be somewhere in the area of 2,800 yards with 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Isaac Barrow: As I said, Flacco has shown beyond impressive poise. Despite un-flashy stats (a little over 1200 yards, 3 TD, 7 INT), he has led the Baltimore Ravens to a four and three record. His stats are quite misleading. As Luke mentioned, he doesn't exactly have the best receiving core in the NFL.
I think bringing Heap into the conversation as a receiver will benefit Flacco to the fullest. I'm not sure why they aren't using Heap right now, regardless of who is under center. Heap can be a huge help to a rookie quarterback, but I understand they want quarterback protection, espcially for a rookie. I think his stats will end up being maybe 2300 yards, 13 TD and 15 INT.
Flacco also will rush for five touchdowns and have 200 receiving yards!
Lawrence Barreca: So far, Joe Flacco has shown more poise than I had ever seen from former 1st round pick Kyle Boller. Joe still has problems with completing pass attempts, and now with the loss of deep-threat Demetrius Williams, the task may become even tougher. I believe that Joe's stats will get better as he learns the offense, but for now, I expect him to finish the year with mediocre numbers. But hey, he's a rookie.
Sean O'Brien: Flacco has shown impressive arm strength and immaculate pocket presence. The only problems I've had with him thus far consists of his leadership ability and decision making. Coach Harbaugh shows increasing confidence in the rookie, allowing him more chances to try and convert on third down, so I'd imagine his number of TDs should increase.
The real question is whether or not he can slow down the pace of his interceptions. Rookies usually have peaks and slumps from week to week and thus far Flacco has stayed true to this formula. At this rate I see him passing for somewhere around 2700 yards, with a completion rating of about 65.1. Hopefully he can finish off the year about 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Chad Lamasa: He just put up his third consectuive game with no picks. I don't expect him to go the rest of the season doing that but if he can have more games without a pick that would be good. His TD's are starting to catch up to his picks. It would be even closer but there have been a few drops and a couple called back due to penalties. I can see him finishing with 12 and 9. Plus maybe 3 or 4 rushing TDs. As far as yardage goes I think Sean is probably about right with 2700, give or take 100 or so. I think that will depend on if he keeps going long to guys like Clayton, or using Heap more. YAC will really be a factor in his final stats.
I want to disagree with Sean on his decision making and leadership skills. At the beginning of the season I would have agreed, but now I don't. I think he has taken the reigns on the offense. Guys are starting to believe in him. Harbaugh telling him that he is the starter for the rest of the season barring injury, must have been a huge confidence boost and takes a lot of pressure off him knowing that if he makes a bad play he's not going to be benched. Sure he still makes a couple of bad decisions in the games but they aren't as frequent as at the beginning of the season. But hey, look at Brett Favre (and no I'm not saying Flacco is as good as Favre) in his 18th? season and he still makes some bad decisions so give the guy a break.
3) Will Todd Heap's role increase?
Luke Jones: Heap is starting to see more passes being thrown his way. Due to the uncertainty at both left and right tackle, Heap has been used more as a blocker, especially earlier in the season. As Jared Gaither and Willie Anderson continue to gel with the rest of the offensive line, Heap’s blocking will not be needed quite as much. However, the injuries to Adam Terry and Marshal Yanda (injured-reserve) have depleted the line’s depth, further complicating the situation.
Heap is still trying to win over the new coaching staff. His toughness has come into question, as he missed much of training camp with a calf injury after missing most of last season with a torn hamstring.
It will be interesting to see if Cam Cameron attempts to throw a few more wrinkles into the offense, trying to get Heap more involved. If not, it will be difficult to justify keeping him around after this season, given his high salary.
Isaac Barrow: His role is starting to increase already. Last game, he caught a fair amount of passes and (surprise surprise), the Ravens won 29-10. In past years, Heap's health and involvement have been beneficial to the Baltimore Ravens success. Last year, he rarely played and the Ravens finished 5-11. The year before, he caught almost 80 passes and the Ravens had 13 wins.
I'd be excited to see Heap getting more chances. He is still a great pass-catching tight end and among the best in the National Football League. Heap could be a great option for Flacco, as I touched on earlier. Flacco typically struggles with passes beyond 10 yards. If Heap can catch some short passes, it will help Flacco's confidence and how well the offense moves the football.
In my opinion, I think his role as a pass-catcher will increase as Flacco matures more and gets used to the fact he's going to be chased every play. So, yes, I do think it will.
Lawrence Barreca: Todd Heap has been a major disappointment this year (especially to fantasy owners) largely due to him having to "block then catch". With one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL, the Ravens need to protect rookie quarterback Joe Flacco as much as possible. However, I do see Todd Heap getting more passes thrown to him as the weeks go by, especially in the 2-minute offense. Don't look forward to him grabbing too many TD's though.
Sean O'Brien: If the Ravens want a more successful passing game then you can bet your ass this guy's role will increase. Over the years he's been a very productive TE, but thus far his only real use has been as a blocker.
Flacco seems to excel with throws of under 10 yards or so, for obvious reasons, and this should increase the amount of receptions Heap has. As of right now Heap's averaging over 10 yards per catch.
Cam Cameron's flash of creativity last week was refreshing so hopefully he'll be able to work Heap in more often.
Chad Lamasa: Yeah his role must increase. He is the Ravens all time leader in TDs, catches, and yards if not more. Heap missed all of training camp and the preseason, at the start of the regular season he was being used more as a blocker in order to give Flacco max protection. Flacco and Heap haven't had much of a chance to get a rythym going. He developed chemistry with Mason and that's why his first look is alway to him. He has started opening up the field a bit with Williams and Clayton, so that may help out Heap. He could wind up being uncovered a bit more and that will get him some catches.
4) Will Troy Smith get more playing time?
Luke Jones: The “Suggs” package has sparked much excitement in Baltimore this past week. It is refreshing to see a Ravens offense with imagination and trickery after so many years of vanilla packages and ineffectiveness.
However, let’s not print the playoff tickets yet. This is a gimmick offense. It will only remain effective in small doses. As Smith continues to play, more tape will be available to opposing teams for scouting. Smith is athletic, no doubt, but he is not as fast as a young Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick.
John Harbaugh and Cameron must also remember they have a rookie quarterback to groom. Though Flacco appears to have nerves of steel, there’s no telling what effect it could have on him if Smith is inserted into the offense more and more, especially in passing situations.
Flacco is clearly the starting quarterback and the future of the organization. Fans calling for Smith need to remember that Flacco now has seven career starts compared to Smith’s two. Smith’s edge in experience is no longer there.
Smith showed an impressive arm in his throw to Flacco and will certainly be a serviceable backup should Flacco be injured or benched.
Chad Lamasa: I don't know how much more PT Troy will get, possibly in some of those Wildcat type packages. Which I'm not sure how much we should do them. You can't really do them more than a couple plays a game because other teams catch on. Sure it worked against the Raiders but they are terrible. The Browns didn't really fall for it all.
I'm really leary about doing them a lot since we cut Todd Bauman and only have two QB's you can't send Joe downfield for catches and risk him getting hurt.
Smith won't be starting this year unless Joe gets hurt.
Depending on how they finish, the Ravens will look to draft a good young corner back such as Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State or Vontae Davis from Illinois. The current tandem of Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle are on the wrong side of 30 and may not even be with the team in 2009.
If no corners are available, they will look to grab a wide receiver that can really stretch the field. Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey would be a popular choice. Heyward-Bey has good size and blinding speed. Jeremy Maclin of Missouri and Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech could also be good fits.
The Ravens could also look at defensive end, as veteran Trevor Pryce may not return in 2009.
Isaac Barrow: There are four people that come to mind: cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (Ohio State), corner back Vontae Davis (Illinois), wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland) and corner back D.J. Moore (Vanderbilt).
I think we desperately need to get younger at the corner back position. We need to get rid of Samari Rolle. In his years here, he's been sick, injured or a bad corner. Usually all three. We also have Chris McAlister, who is also struggling with health. Frank Walker has gotten an innumerable amount of penalties. We'll most likely end up getting Moore. Bey, Jenkins and Davis will likely be top ten picks, and we don't look headed for a top ten pick.
Lawrence Barreca: Obviously, the Ravens need help in 2 major areas: corner back and wide receiver. Some names that I can throw out there are Michael Crabtree (WR- Texas Tech), Malcolm Jenkins (CB- Ohio State), Jeremy Maclin (WR- Missouri), and D.J. Moore (CB- Vanderbilt). Depending on where the Ravens draft, any one of these players could help the team with its progression next year. Some sites, though, predict the Ravens grabbing Jeremy Maclin. They also have the Ravens drafting at 21, something that is very likely to shift.
Sean O'Brien: With a young, surging offense I would like to think that this team will pursue some new defensive players. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Trevor Pryce have been beasts since the beginning of their career but let's face it, they won't be around forever. If these players do return for at least next year it'd be a good idea to mix in some fresh blood for them to mentor.
In the later rounds I'd like to see them acquire a few WRs. Thus far, Mason has been the only wide out to stretch the field and he is too spotty to be a consistent threat. Drafting some short, quick receivers much like DeSean Jackson or Santana Moss would be most helpful. I'm not a huge college FB guy so excuse the lack of certain names.
Chad Lamasa: I'm not much for College Football either so I don't know a lot of names. I think as far as positions go you'd have to look for an explosive WR, a guy like Crabtree from Texas Tech comes to mind, but I doubt he'll fall very far and if we finish 9-7 or 10-6 we may not have a chance at him. Also I think we need to get a bit younger on D. I seriously doubt C-Mac will be here next season and a good CB would be something to look at it.
Free agency may also play a part in the draft as we have several guys in their final years. So if we lose Heap, we might consider a TE, although we have Wilcox and Sypniewski but both are injury prone.
We may need to replace Suggs if he goes. Ray is a free agent but he is a guy they need to lock up. He needs to be a Raven for life just like Ogden was.
I'd like to thank Lawrence Barreca, Seab O'Brien, Chad Lamasa and Luke Jones for contributing to this, they helped me make a successful round table and I thank them for that.