AFRO Sports Faceoff: Will the Baltimore Ravens Reach the Playoffs in 2011?

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Fans of the Baltimore Ravens are already debating whether Charm City’s favorite football team will be as good as they have been in recent years.

The Ravens have been considered Super Bowl contenders for the past three years, claiming their stake as one of the top teams in the NFL annually. But after losing quality veteran talent such as Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Willis McGahee, and LeRon McClain, whom all have been to the pro bowl, it’s hard not to think Baltimore may take a step back in production this year. Will the Ravens fail to reach the playoffs in 2011? AFRO sports writers Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley share their early predictions.

Riley: This may be the beginning of a rebuilding phase for the Ravens, who will likely fail to reach the playoffs in 2011. They just lost their two top receiving leaders in franchise history in the same offseason, a clear indication that this team won’t be as good as it was last year. Losing McGahee and McClain, two vital pieces to the Ravens’ running game, won’t help either, and the defensive unit just keeps getting older and older. This team won’t be better than New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, or New York, probably the top four teams in the AFC. And with teams like San Diego, Kansas City and Houston on the rise, I just don’t see any room for the declining Ravens to squeeze into the postseason picture.

Green: This Ravens haven’t missed the playoffs since 2007, and I’m not willing to bet against them this season. They may have lost Mason, one of the surest-handed and finest route running receivers in the league. But they recently replaced him by trading for proven speedster Lee Evans, who can stretch the football field with the best of them. While Evans may not be the crafty possession receiver that Mason was, Baltimore already has pro bowler Anquan Boldin to take over that role. Evans, on the other hand, should offer a new dimension that the Ravens’ passing game has lacked for most of the last decade. The Ravens will also be counting on rookie receiver Torrey Smith, a 6-foot-2-inch receiver out of Maryland with 4.4 speed. He’ll join Evans in what should be Baltimore’s fastest starting receiving corps since Jermaine Lewis started at the position in 1997.

Riley: Evans is a decent pickup, but he won’t solidify the Ravens’ offensive attack alone. Baltimore will still struggle to put points on the board, while the teams I mentioned above seem to only get better and better offensively. But while Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is making trade for receivers, he needs to be making trades to improve his secondary as well. What good is all that speed of a receiver, if your cornerbacks are just going to get burned on defense, just like they were last season? Outside of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, two legends on the downhill of their careers, Baltimore’s defense doesn’t have any other major impact players. They drafted cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first round this spring, but he’s still an unproven player. Everybody else in the secondary is suspect, just like the Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco. Again, a team like Houston or Kansas City, will make the playoff before the Ravens. Both teams have excellent running games, strong defense and most importantly, better quarterbacks. The Ravens should have traded for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, or better yet, let rookie passer Tyrod Taylor take over as starter. Either option would be an upgrade over Flacco; an average quarterback who I believe will eventually be benched this season.

Green: Wow. So let me get this straight; the Ravens would be in a better position if they benched their 3-year starter for a 6th-round draft pick that hasn’t played a single regular season game yet? Is this a joke? Flacco currently owns the NFL record for most wins earned by a quarterback in his first three years (36), and has led Baltimore to the playoff every year since his arrival in 2008. He has thrown for 60 touchdowns, more than 10,000 passing yards, both franchise records. You may be able to name a few quarterbacks here or there who can put together a winning season with the supporting cast the Ravens offer, but to do it three years straight is far beyond average. It’s so far beyond average that no one else in league history has done it before. Contrary to your belief, Flacco is one of the primary reasons Baltimore has been playing football in January annually, and this year should prove no different.

And you may be giving teams like Houston and Kansas City a little too much praise. You claim KC has a better quarterback in Matt Cassel, but he had one of the worst performances in league history last postseason, finishing an AFC first round wildcard game with three interceptions and a dismal 18 percent passer rating. If that’s what you consider “better than Flacco,” I don’t know whether to debate with you, or take you to the nearest hospital to get that head checked out. And Houston won’t be doing any better than they did last year when they finished with a sorry 6-10 record. Houston may have improved on defense with the hiring of defensive guru Wade Phillips, but their greatest strength from last season was their running game with no-name tailback Arian Foster rushing behind pro bowl fullback Vonta Leach. Baltimore just took Leach from them via free agency, so there goes Houston’s running game. Look for Leach to instantly improve the Ravens’ rushing attack and help Baltimore advance to its fourth straight trip to the playoff.