Well, it's just a few days before the start of the 2009 season, so you know what that means: prediction time.
Looking back at 2008, I couldn't have been more wrong. I predicted the Ravens would go 3-13, but they exceeded everyone's expectations and came just a few plays short of making the Super Bowl. So needless to say, my expectations going into 2009 are going to be high. Especially after watching the first team breeze through the preseason with a 4-0 record.
One thing that troubles me is that the Ravens face a second-place schedule that is much harder than the Steelers' first-place schedule since the Dolphins and Titans each finished in first place in 2008 while the Patriots and the Colts each took second.
But, if you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. So here goes:
Kansas City -- The Chiefs look to be in for another year of rebuilding. They traded for Matt Cassel, who led the Patriots to a 11-5 record last year in the absence of Tom Brady, but they still missed the playoffs. Cassel is hurt, but Tyler Thigpen passed for 18 TD's a year ago before going down with an injury. WR DeWayne Bowe is a threat, but the Chiefs traded away TE Tony Gonzalez last season. They still have RB Larry Johnson, but their defense is in shambles. The Ravens should be able to control the tempo of the game from the kickoff, and I don't expect anything resembling a close game unless Joe Flacco and the Ravens commit several turnovers, most of them coming deep in their own territory. I've got the Ravens starting the 2009 season in a big way, winning 30-3.
@ San Diego -- The Chargers miraculously came back from a horrible 4-8 start to the 2008 season by winning their final 4 games and winning the division before making a little noise in the playoffs, when they knocked off the Colts in the first round. Philip Rivers has established himself as an elite QB and their defense is strong. They still have RB Ladanian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates and WR Vincent Jackson is becoming a beast. This is going to be a very hard game for the Ravens to win, and ultimately, I don't think they will. I've got some friends traveling to San Diego for this game and I'm afraid they'll be in for a letdown. Ravens lose, 24-18.
Cleveland -- The Browns looked to be a strong contender for the division in 2008 after they finished 10-6 in 2007, but they fell apart. Derek Anderson reverted back to his turnover-machine self and was eventually benched in favor of Brady Quinn, who played only 2 games before being injured. Meanwhile, WR Braylon Edwards couldn't catch the ball after putting up a epic 2007 season. The Browns are still a mess, even under strict-HC Eric Mangini. They might be a little more disciplined this season, but they don't have enough talent to hang with the Ravens. Ravens win, 28-12.
@ New England -- All you need to know is Tom Brady is back after the Patriots still went 11-5 without him in 2008. The game is in New England. The Ravens will have to play perfect to win, and I don't think they will. Ravens lose, 20-10.
Cincinnati - The Bengals could be a sleeper team this season, with Carson Palmer (somewhat) healthy and their defense coming on as one of the better defenses in the AFC. But their offense and defensive lines are still weak and it shouldn't be long until Palmer is injured again. He might not even be healthy by week 4. Put me down for a Ravens win, 27-13.
@ Minnesota -- Unless you've been under a rock for the past month, Brett Favre is now a Viking. Whether that scares you or not depends on how you think the 39-year-old veteran can perform at this stage in his career. The Vikes still have the best running attack with RM Adrian Peterson and had the best run defense in the NFL in '08, but Favre doesn't make them much better than they were a year ago. It's going to be a tough game for the Ravens to win, but if they can contain the Vikings running attack, they can win. Ravens win, 23-17.
Denver -- The Broncos are starting to fall apart. They traded loud-mouth QB Jay Cutler to the Bears and got Kyle Orton in return and Brandon Marshall is a powder-keg. Their once-fearsome running attack is now populated by a slew of RB's who scare no one. The Broncos defense was ranked 30th last year, and didn't get much better. The Ravens should soundly beat the Broncos at home, 34-13.
@ Cincinnatti -- Besides the blowout the Ravens handed the Bengals in Cincy last year (I was there with friends), the Bengals have played the Ravens tough at home in the recent past. This game will depend on the health of Carson Palmer more than anything. That said, I still think the Ravens should come away with a victory, 27-20.
@ Cleveland -- Like Cincy, the Browns always give the Ravens fits at home. And the Ravens needed a huge comeback last season to beat the Browns in Cleveland. I don't think they'll need one this year. Ravens win, 34-16.
Indianapolis -- Oh boy. If there is any other team in the NFL I hate almost as much as I hate the Steelers, it's the Colts. After they inched their way past the Ravens in the 2006 playoffs, I have loathed them. Then there is the whole "they used to play in Baltimore" thing. Put simply, the Colts have owned the Ravens since 2001, regardless of whether the games have been played in Baltimore or Indianapolis. But I think this could finally be the year we beat the Colts. For one, the Colts are under a new head coach (Jim Caldewell) after Tony Dungy retired last season, and Peyton Manning will be without WR Marvin Harrison for the first time in his career. I am sure Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez will be a nice WR tandem, but if ever there was a time for the Colts' offense to slow down somewhat, it's now. Plus, Joseph Addai became a disappointment last season, prompting the Colts to draft rookie RB Donald Brown. Safety Bob Sanders (the Colts version of Ed Reed) has been hampered with injuries his whole career and is already slated to miss the first 4 games of the 2009 season. And without Sanders, the Colts defense is vulnerable. If the Ravens can finally get after Manning, it could be a long day for the Colts. Finally. Ravens win, 28-24.
Pittsburgh -- What a nice 2-game combo this is, huh? The Steelers beat the Ravens 3 times last season en route to winning their 6th Super Bowl in franchise history. Blah, blah, blah. The Ravens finally get the Steelers at home during a prime-time game and if they are going to beat the Steelers any time soon, it's going to be at home. Since these games are so late in the season it's hard to predict what each team will look like by then after injuries, but I still think the Ravens will pull out at least one win against the Steelers in '09. Ravens win, 17-13.
@ Green Bay -- Aaron Rogers established himself as a top-QB last year, and he looks to continue his roll in 2009. That said, the Packers defense is still a question mark and playing in Lambeau Field is not the dreaded task it has been in the past. Ravens win, 30-24.
Detroit -- The Lions didn't win at all in 2008, but they should have at least 1 win by the time they come to Baltimore. Top draft pick Matt Stafford has been pegged QB#1 in Detroit and Calvin Johnson is one of the league's best wideouts, but the Lions are still in shambles. Ravens win 44-10.
Chicago -- The Bears got QB Jay Cutler from the Broncos during the offseason and that move alone makes them a more dangerous offense. However, their WR's are questionable and their defense is not what it once was. But second-year RB Matt Forte looks to be a large part of their offense again, like he was in '08. I am glad the Ravens are playing the Bears at home, because I don't know if the Ravens could pull this one out in Solider Field. Ravens win, 20-13.
@ Pittsburgh -- The Ravens aren't going to sweep the Steelers, unless I am dreaming, so I just have to put this down as a loss on principle. Ravens lose, 17-14.
@ Oakland -- The Ravens close out the season with 2 road games, including this trip to the west coast. With the way the Raiders offseason has been going, it's questionable if they will even exist come week 17. But if they are, it won't be pretty. The Raiders do have some good parts, including CB Nnamdi Asomugha, RB Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas, and rookie WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. I also think QB JaMarcus Russell could be poised for somewhat of a breakout year after performing well in his last few games of the 2008 season, but there are too many problems that run too deep in Oakland. Plus the Ravens should be extra-motivated to win this game, since they could be fighting for the division title or possible home field advantage. Ravens win 27-10
Ravens Record: 13-3
Is there a ton of homerism in that prediction? You bet. I am thinking that a 11-5 record is a more realistic possibility,with losses coming against the Colts and Vikings, but I figured I'd reverse my 2008 prediction for continuity.
I just hope I'm not as off on this prediction as I was on that one.