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The NFL’s Biggest Dark Horse Team In 2023

Highlighting key factors that make the Baltimore Ravens the NFL's dark horse team to watch entering the 2023-24 NFL season.
Baltimore Ravens Team

The 2022 Baltimore Ravens team had a 10-7 record and finished second in the AFC North. They lost a nail-biting Wild Card game to the Cincinnati Bengals, falling short by a score of 24-17. The game almost saw a dramatic comeback with a 4th and 20 Hail Mary play, but it ultimately fell incomplete.

The team’s playoff hopes were hampered by the absence of star quarterback Lamar Jackson, who suffered a knee injury in Week 13. J.K. Dobbins and others believe having Jackson available would have led to a different outcome in that Wild Card matchup.

Despite the disappointment, the Ravens showed resilience throughout the season. This year, they have a healthier roster and made a few key additions, particularly on the offensive end. Here’s why the Baltimore Ravens are the NFL’s dark horse team entering the 2023-24 season.

Baltimore Ravens: The NFL’s Dark Horse Team to Watch

Offensive Improvements

One significant factor contributing to the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive potential is the return of Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Both are now two years removed from their devastating knee injuries. In addition, both players enter contract years and are eager to prove themselves on the field.

Moreover, Jackson now has an array of new offensive weapons. The Ravens made a splash by signing Odell Beckham Jr. to a one-year, $15 million deal, signaling their commitment to surrounding Jackson with top-tier talent. They also addressed their weapons through the draft, selecting Flowers in the first round, further improving their receiving options.

Under the guidance of a new offensive coordinator, the Ravens are expected to adopt a more fast-paced and pass-happy attack. Monken’s philosophy emphasizes empowering the players and allowing them to make decisions on the field. This approach gives Jackson more freedom to adjust plays and utilize his playmaking abilities effectively.

The offensive line of the Ravens is another strength that contributes to their offensive prowess. Led by standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley and anchored by center Tyler Linderbaum, the Ravens’ offensive line is considered borderline top-five in the league. The solid protection this talented group provides will give Jackson the time he needs to create plays, both with his arm and legs. Not to mention creating lanes for the returning running back tandem of Edwards and Dobbins.

The Ravens assembled the best-supporting cast of Lamar Jackson’s career. As a result, their offensive potential is rising. The Baltimore Ravens averaged 20.4 points per game, tied with the Carolina Panthers for 19th in the NFL. Expect them to flirt closer to a top-ten-scoring team in the NFL this upcoming season.

Defensive Changes

In the 2022 season, the Baltimore Ravens were third-best team in the league in opponent points allowed per game at 18.8, behind only the 49ers and Jets. In addition to their crucial offensive moves this offseason, Baltimore also did a solid job of remaining relatively the same on defense despite significant losses.

Some defensive pieces they lost include defensive lineman Calais Campbell, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul, cornerback Marcus Peters, and safety Chuck Clark.

Former Raiders cornerback Rock Ya-Sin is a solid replacement for Peters. Ya-Sin signed for a one-year, $6 million deal. Former first-round pick Kyle Hamilton seems ready to step into a more prominent role at safety to fill in for Clark.

Ultimately, the success of this defense may depend on how outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo perform with increased roles. Not only for filling in the void of Houston and Pierre-Paul but also as pass rushers to replace some of the pressure Campbell was so great at providing.

Baltimore lost a lot of talented veterans on defense. But the good news is they have young talent ready to step into increased roles. They likely won’t be a top-three defense like they were last season. Still, there’s plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball to boast a top-ten defense.

Why This Baltimore Ravens Team Will Be Better

Overall, the combination of improved health and new offensive weapons makes the Baltimore Ravens an intriguing team. Baltimore put themselves in a better position by adding weapons to optimize Lamar Jackson’s dynamic skill set.  They are much more well-balanced with an offense and defense that both have the potential to be top ten.

The AFC is loaded with talented teams. The Ravens should be included in the conversation as one of those talented teams. They had a great offseason and should be NFL’s dark horse entering the 2023-24 season.

Main Photo: Brent Skeen – USA Today Sports


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