After failing to reach expectations in 2020, the Baltimore Ravens will again have their eyes on a Super Bowl title in 2021.
The Ravens have lost in the divisional round of the playoffs in each of the last two years, but the team is capable of more led by 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson. The offense finished last season ranked seventh in points scored, while the defense was second in the NFL in points allowed, resulting in the largest point differential (+165) in the league.
With a few luckier breaks, the team could have been even better than its 11-5 record in the regular season.
The challenge this year will be continuing this production despite some significant losses in the offseason. Baltimore will first have to navigate a difficult regular-season schedule that features 17 games for the first time ever.
Here is the Ravens' path in 2021, courtesy of the team's official Twitter account:
The schedule is loaded with tough battles outside the division, including home games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. There are nine total games against playoff teams from last season, plus a tough matchup against the 10-win Miami Dolphins.
Many of these games will be especially hard on the defense, which lost key pass-rushers like Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency.
The good news is the Ravens have overcome these types of losses before, most recently with Judon stepping up after the departures of Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith. It will be up to players such as Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson, rookie first-round pick Jayson Oweh and others to fill the role and provide pressure from the outside.
Patrick Queen will still be a key player in the middle of the defense, while cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters remain strengths of the team.
It will help the Ravens as they continue their trend of being one of the top defensive teams in the NFL each year.
Pittsburgh faded down the stretch after an 11-0 start last season, but Ben Roethlisberger will be back for more and has won his last three starts against the Ravens.
Cleveland will be even more dangerous while returning most of the core that went 11-5 last season with the franchise's first playoff win since 1994.
It will be up to Jackson to prove he is the best quarterback in the division with consistent play in big games, something he has struggled with at times in his young career.
The Ravens added more weapons to help strengthen the passing attack including Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace, while J.K. Dobbins appears ready to take over the run game alongside Gus Edwards.
Baltimore has to live up to the sum of its parts for another trip to the playoffs and possibly more.