2017 review of previews

It's time to take a look back at pre-season to see whether the expert predictions for the Ravens matched what happened on the field.

The Ravens’ season ended on New Year’s Eve with a heartbreaking, last-gasp defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a season that began, as seasons always do, with a vast amount of optimism from the Ravens Flock. A string of season-ending injuries dented that optimism but a couple of early wins gave fans hope. From there it was up and down. Struggles in the first half of the season made it essential to win after the bye. The Ravens did that, but against weakened or poor opposition. Just missing out on the playoffs was probably a fair result.

But let’s rewind to pre-season and look at what the experts predicted for 2017. Did they have a good idea of what was coming or were they too optimistic? Let’s review the previews…

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Football Outsiders
Prediction: 8-10 wins (41% likelihood)
The FO preview spends much of its time detailing offensive problems. Flacco’s career stats do not compare to the elites, they note, with comparable modern QBs including Alex Smith, Jay Cutler and David Garrard. With Gary Kubiak, who knew how to use him, as offensive coordinator Flacco played well. Without, he’s stuck trying to emulate Kansas City’s style without its dynamic offensive personnel.
The defense, meanwhile, is “stacked” but has “questions about the individual pass-rushing talent”. They predict a good year for Tyus Bowser but say that their system might be overrating him a little.
Overall: a pretty accurate set of predictions. Hard to find much to argue with here.

Warren Sharp’s 2017 Football Preview
Prediction: 9 wins
Flacco is an early focus of this preview, too, with Sharp noting that unlike Eli Manning and Roethlisberger, Flacco has not followed-up his Super Bowl win during his rookie contract with another one under his first veteran deal. Like Football Outsiders, Sharp questions whether Flacco is doing enough to justify his cap hit.
Sharp notes that the defense was strong in 2016 and says it should be even better in 2017, thanks to free agent and draft additions.
Overall: bang on with the predicted record and a good summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

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Lindy’s Sports Pro Football
Prediction: 2nd in AFC North
Lindy’s leads on the Ravens drafting several new defensive players. Bisciotti has confidence in John Harbaugh, they note, but put the head coach on the “Hot Seat” because “the patience of the fan base is waning”. The offense is rating fairly well: 7.5/10 for the QBs, 6.5 for RBs, 7 for WRs and 6.5 for the O-line. That’s before injuries decimated the offensive line.
The defense is rated at 7/10 for the D-line, 6.5 for the LBs and 8 for the secondary.
Overall: they were right that the Ravens would finish second in the division but perhaps a little optimistic about the offense. The defensive marks are about right,

Street & Smith’s 2017 Pro Football
Prediction: 3rd in AFC North
Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun writes the S&S preview. He predicts that the Ravens will finish behind the Steelers and the Bengals in the division and that missing the playoffs for a fourth straight year will spell the end for John Harbaugh. He predicts an improved running game and says Flacco will need to be more accurate and more patient.
An unnamed opponent says the Ravens are “stuck in mediocrity” because “they don’t have [any offensive playmakers] you have to be overly concerned about”. S&S concludes that the Ravens might make the playoffs but lack the firepower to go far.
Overall: the general prediction, that the Ravens are an average team that could squeeze into the playoffs or just miss out is about right but they were too specific – and flat wrong – in saying Harbaugh would be sacked if they missed the post-season.

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Pro Football Weekly Preview 2017
Prediction: 8-8 and 2nd in the AFC North
The Ravens have “the league’s most ordinary offense” and Flacco is “average at best” is PFW’s assessment of the 2017 Ravens. QBs get a C+, RBs a C, WRs and TEs a C and the O-line a B-. Surprisingly, this is the opposite of Lindy’s, which saw the O-line as the weak point of the offense.
On defense, the challenge is to find a pass rush and hope the secondary avoids injuries. The D-line scores a B, LBs B- and the secondary gets a B. “A post-season berth would be a worthy accomplishment,” says PFW.
Overall: about right on the offense. A little optimistic in how much the defense might accomplish, though one play in the final game would have changed all that.

What does all this tell us? The previewers were generally pretty accurate. The newer organisations on the scene – Football Outsiders and Warren Sharp – were far more specific in their predictions and generally reliable. The magazines, which have been going for decades, hedged their bets a little more but still more or less called it right: this was a mediocre team that was destined to just squeeze into, or just miss out on, the post-season. And so it proved.

The fans will always be more optimistic than outsiders – and Ravens fans especially tend to feel that their team is traditionally overlooked by national media. However, in this case, listening to the previews might have held that optimism in check. We can only hope for a turnaround next year.

Photo: Tony & Wayne

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