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Ravens Face World of Questions as 2018 Season Approaches


So, the Ravens completed their exhibition season with no blemishes on their record, a 5-0 mark, making them the only NFL team to win all their preseason games.

Now, before you run out and book plane and hotel reservations for Atlanta, the scene of February’s Super Bowl, consider this fact: The Ravens went unbeaten last exhibition season and the exhibition season before that.

And both of the succeeding regular seasons ended with the Ravens out of the playoffs.

To be sure, last season was a near miss – postseason-wise – as the team was eliminated on a fluke 49-yard touchdown by the Cincinnati Bengals here in Baltimore no less.

Last year’s 9-7 mark was an improvement on recent 8-8 and 5-11 seasons, but, in sports, you’re really only as good as your record – your most recent record – says you are.

Rest assured that if the 2018 season ends the way the 2017 and 2016 seasons did, 2019 will look quite differently with almost certainly a new coach, and most likely, a new starting quarterback.

But after this exhibition season, can anyone, even, head coach John Harbaugh, say what this team will be or what its record will look like?

Nope, and for Harbaugh, who is six years removed from a Super Bowl and who has missed the playoffs four of the last five years, that concept must be frightening.

The Ravens start the season with a variety of questions at a host of positions. Harbaugh can’t afford to wait for those questions to answer themselves or the season, and his job may be lost.

The defense appears to be as stalwart as ever, though its spiritual leader, Terrell Suggs will be 36 midway through the season and is entering his 16th NFL season.

Suggs is coming off a Pro Bowl season last year and claims not to be considering retirement. But the Baltimore brain trust has to have some Plan B in case Suggs isn’t the same guy he was last year.

And the team’s best defender, cornerback Jimmy Smith,will miss the first four games of the season serving a league-mandated suspension. Not the most comforting way to start a new year.

But the defense is a bastion of calm, compared to the offense, which is full of question marks.

The receiving corps is wildly untested. Michael Crabtree, the former Raider and 49er, didn’t light the world on fire in the Bay Area, but he will be the leader of this group.

Meanwhile, the offensive line was deemed so untrustworthy that it appeared the coaching staff limited the times quarterback Joe Flacco played behind them for fear of getting him hurt before Sept. 9’s opener against Buffalo.

And that brings us to Flacco and the quarterbacks. When last we saw the laconic Flacco, he was having a rather inconsistent 2017 season. He is expected to return at the starter this season, but the Ravens are planning for a Joe-less future.

That was the point of using a first round pick to take a former Heisman Trophy winner, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Jackson needs seasoning, but he appears to be Baltimore’s next starter.

If that happens before 2019, then forget Super Bowl tickets. You can book John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco tickets out of town.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.