A Look Back – Once again, the Baltimore Ravens proved that they are one of the elite franchises in the NFL last season by making yet another trip to the playoffs. However, the illustrious Super Bowl has still evaded this team for years, and that’s the only goal in mind for the purple and black in 2010 with plenty of new pieces to the puzzle that could make this the scariest team in the league.

Key Addition – WR Anquan Boldin – Finally, the Ravens have a #2 wide receiver to complement Derrick Mason! Baltimore made it a point to go find another huge name to stick opposite one of the best receivers this franchise has ever had by acquiring WR Anquan Boldin from the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason. There are two great things about Boldin that QB Joe Flacco will love. First of all, he is seemingly good for 65+ receptions and 1,000+ yards every single season. The second is that you know he doesn’t have a huge ego having played second fiddle to WR Larry Fitzgerald for years in the desert.

Baltimore Ravens Cheerleader

Key Loss – DB Dominique Foxworth – Foxworth is still a Raven, but his ACL tear suffered last week will cost him his 2010 season. The secondary is probably the only piece to this defense that is thin, and losing the team’s top INT man from a year ago isn’t going to help matters at all. Unless either S Dawan Landry or Tom Zbikowski is shifting to corner, there could be a huge gap in the Baltimore ‘D’.

2010 Will Be a Success if… – The front seven stays healthy and continues to harass opposing quarterbacks. That’s certainly one way to make your secondary look great. Though LB Ray Lewis is clearly up there in age at this point in his career, there is no doubting the fact that he is still one of the best in the biz. Add a new protégé in the mix in the form of LB Sergio Kindle and the recipe is ripe for Baltimore to be lethal for a number of years.

The Crucial Game – The trip to Pittsburgh in Week 4 could effectively put the division away for the Ravens early on. The Steelers appear to be the only team between Baltimore and an AFC North title this year, and a win in Steeltown without QB Ben Roethlisberger in the fold due to suspension would be massive.

Predictions – Baltimore’s only glaring problem on the entire roster is that secondary. The offense could put up 6,500 yards this year if it really needs to, and the defense will still be feared. Anything less than a dozen wins and an AFC North title would be devastating this season. The oddsmakers have them at -140 in AFC North odds and +900 to win the Super Bowl.

2010 Baltimore Ravens Regular Season Schedule

9/13 @ NYJ
9/19 @ CIN
9/26 vs. CLE
10/3 @ PIT
10/10 vs. DEN
10/17 @ NE
10/24 vs. BUF
Bye
11/7 vs. MIA
11/11 @ ATL
11/21 @ CAR
11/28 vs. TB
12/5 vs. PIT
12/13 @ HOU
12/19 vs. NO
12/26 @ CLE
1/2 vs. CIN

 

The NFL draft is rapidly approaching and which means it is time for NFL draft props. Draft props are a great way of putting your mock-draft abilities to the test.

The over/under on Defensive Tackles taken in Round 1 is 4.5 with the over paying +160 and the under just -180.

Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy will almost certainly be gone in the top five, but the question is are there three more players talented enough to be worth a first-round picks and are there three teams who need Defensive Tackles badly enough to burn a first round selection on one of the remaining candidates.

Dan Williams of Tennesse will almost certainly go in the first round giving a third defensive tackle.

Jared Odrick, Brian Price and Terrence Cody are the three remaining DT’s who are considered possible first-round material and you will need two of three to go in the first round to cover the over.

Odrick was arrested in March, so some teams might shy away from him, but he seems like a safe, but not exceptional pick.

Price declared one year early and has some upside in a 4-3 system, but he only has one really good year to his credit, so it is hard to say if he will be able to consistently perform at a high level.

Cody is intriguing because he has been working hard in the off-season to trim off some of his massive bulk and teams will like that commitment.

Possible destinations include the Cincinnati Bengals, the New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens, the New York Jets, the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints.

My guess is the Cincinnati uses Tank Johnson to let them gamble on developing a DT with a lower pick, the Pats pass on DT and choose to address other needs first, Odrick goes to the Ravens.

That leaves one of Price and Cody to go to New York, Minnesota or New Orleans in order to cover and I don’t see either of them being good enough to cause those teams to ignore other needs.

The under looks like the play here, but at -180 it might not be worthwhile.

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NFL Divisional Playoffs Wrap Up

New Orleans Saints Fan
That was a good weekend of football. We saw some really good, close games and some thoroughly dominating offensive and defensive performances leaving us with one Cinderella team, the Jets, one Cinderella story, Favre and the Vikings, and two teams that delivered after promising regular seasons.

NFC Divisional Games

The Saints made the Cardinals look bad. I felt this game had blow-out potential, I just wasn’t sure which way it would go and the Saints poor play down the stretch had me leaning away from the Saints.

Way to prove me wrong.

I loved how the Vikings completely dismantled a hot Cowboys team. The combination of good preparation, the right game plan and a veteran quarterback like Favre who can bring it all together makes Minnesota a threat to any team.

As good as their respective offenses played, much of the credit has to go to the defenses who were in lock-down mode. It will be interesting to see whether it’s the veteran savvy of Favre or the overwhelming force of Drew Brees and the other Saints stars that gets the upper hand on the defenses.

Early NFL conference final odds have the Saints favored by four points. I don’t want to under-estimate the Saints after underestimating them last week, but I’m going to have a long hard think before betting against the Vikings.

AFC Divisional Games

The Chargers-Jets game played out almost exactly as I expected, although I didn’t account for the Jets ability to wear down opposing defenses and thought they’d be up early. The Jets aren’t going to play any pretty games, or at least they aren’t going to win them, but it’s nice seeing a team buck the trend to pass-heavy offenses and succeed.

Too many coaches are like sheep always building teams that emulate the most recent Super Bowl winners when there’s more than one way to win.

I also got the Ravens-Colts game right except that the Ravens surprised me with how much they passed. When the Ravens got the early field goal, it felt like Manning just decided that there was no way the Ravens were going to outplay the Colts and immediately quelled any doubt.

The AFC Final odds favor the Colts by 7.5. It’s a lot to cover and you know the Jets will play them tough, but the Colts are better equipped to deal with the Jets than the Chargers who really didn’t match up well.

Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders
The Indianapolis Colts play their first meaningful game in a month as they host the run-happy Baltimore Ravens.

The Colts (-270) are 6-point NFL playoff odds favorites over the Ravens (+225) and the over/under is 44.

Come playoff time there’s always a favorite that rested starters late in the season and then lost because they weren’t in sync when games started to matter again. Sports betting fans have to wonder if the Colts are that team.

The Colts started resting their starters in Week 16 and got two losses to show for it.

But Manning and crew looked dominant in the first half of their game against the Jets and the white-out conditions in the Buffalo game mean that you can probably give the offense a pass for their poor showing against the Bills.

If the Indianapolis starters were struggling in the last couple of weeks it might be something to worry about, but they weren’t so the rest will probably help them.

In the Ravens’ victory last week over New England, they kept running the ball into the teeth of the Patriots defense and it kept working.

But they also showed very little confidence in their quarter back Joe Flacco who completed just four passes and still managed an interception in just ten throwing attempts. Flacco is playing through injuries which is great when you want excuses, but doesn’t help much when you’re trying to win games.

Baltimore was probably also helped by the cold New England weather which tends to affect passing offenses more than running ones, but their defense also deserves credit for keeping New England’s star receivers well covered.

They’re probably going to have to stick with their running game against Indianapolis to keep the Colts’ fierce passing attack off of the field. But the Colts’ run defense is also something fierce.

In their November 22 meeting, a 17-15 win for Indianapolis, the Colts held the Ravens to just 76 yards on the ground. With Flacco injured, a similar defensive performance will make this game a rout.

The Colts might struggle a little to get their timing back on offense, but they’ll get it back soon enough to cover because the Ravens aren’t going to score much in this one.

There isn’t a team in the league that’s given their fans more to cheer about over the last 10 years than the Patriots. Three Super Bowls wins in four appearances, seven division titles, a 16-0 regular season, a record setting offense, the list goes on.

So how do those loyal Patriots fans respond? By booing their team in Sundays wildcard loss to the Ravens. The Ravens first play from scrimmage was an 83 yard touchdown run. The Patriots first series finished in a strip sack of Brady by Suggs, which led to another score for the Ravens.

With the team down 14-0 only five minutes into the game the crowd lost all faith in their team. Forgotten are all the comebacks dialed up by Brady and games won in the final seconds. Nope, Patriots fans weren’t having any of it. In their eyes the team was a disgrace.

The Ravens were the ones who benefited from this. Their arrogance was bubbling over even more than usual as the sound of frustrated fans only served to jack Lewis and company up more. At the end of the first quarter the Patriots were down 24-0.

New England’s defense settled down only allowing 9 points for the remaining three quarters. But the damage had been done. The Patriots offense never seemed to find it’s rhythm. At times it looked like a comeback was possible. It never manifested itself though, the Ravens just seemed to be getting all the bounces.

Would this game have been different had the crowd not disrespected their team? There’s a good possibility it may have. If you watched the game you could see how the Ravens were feeding off it. You could also see the frustration from the Patriots. Who wouldn’t be frustrated and let down?

It’s pretty obvious football doesn’t mean as much to Boston fans as baseball, basketball or hockey. Maybe the Patriots just don’t have the tradition Boston fans love. I’m really not quite sure why it is. I know that if my town had a team as successful as the Patriots have been there would be nothing but love for them. But like spoiled children, nothing is ever good enough for Patriots fans.

That’s the loudest the fans at a Patriots game have been in quite some time. Too bad it only served to help the Ravens play better. With all the talk about Jacksonville, Minnesota or a few other teams that have way better fans than the Patriots moving to Los Angeles, maybe it’s time to throw another team into that mix. The LA Patriots, it has a pretty nice ring to it. Much nicer than the ring heard in Gillette stadium Sunday afternoon.

T. Jay is the writer and founder of http://www.GridironInsight.com, a blog dedicated to giving people a different view of the NFL. You can follow everything on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GridironInsight.

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