1) How will the Ravens finish?
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.
2) What will quarterback Joe Flacco's final statistics look like?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.
3) Will Todd Heap's role in the offense increase?
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.
4) Now that he's healthy, will Troy Smith continue to get more playing time?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.