NFL Conference Championship Weekend Breakdown

After two weeks of NFL playoff football, four teams remain in the fold with aspirations of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl 53.

The top two seeds in both the NFC – Rams and Saints – and the AFC – Patriots and Chiefs – will face each other for the second time after having already met in the regular season. The Saints defeated the Rams 45-35 during week 9 in the Superdome. The Patriots topped the Chiefs 43-40 on a week 6 Sunday Night Football affair, but that game took place in a different venue than this weekend’s.

The four top offenses in the NFL will be represented during conference championship weekend. It shouldn’t shock anyone that both aforementioned head-to-head games, as well as the Rams’ 54-51 win over the Chiefs in week 11 on Monday Night Football were three of the best games of the regular season.

It won’t be easy for these four teams to replicate the offensive numbers put up from a short while ago. All four squads have film from the previous meetings, in addition to the hours of film compiled up from the divisional round and the last few weeks of the regular season. But after seeing all four teams combine for 163 points in their prior meetings, anything’s possible.

Conference Championship weekend features two games, both on Sunday. Time to see how the Charm City Bird Watch staff thinks these games will play out.


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Image Credit: USA Today

NFC: #2 Los Angeles Rams @ #1 New Orleans Saints – 3:05 pm – FOX

JakeAfter falling victim to the Minneapolis miracle in last year’s divisional round, the Saints are a better team that’s one win away from the Super Bowl. New Orleans has reached the team’s third NFC Championship game of the Drew Brees era. In 2007 the Saints lost to the Chicago Bears, but in 2010 Brees and company took down Brett Favre and the Vikings before winning Super Bowl 44.

Last week’s 30-22 with over the Cowboys did more for the Rams than people realize. In the divisional round last year, the Atlanta Falcons marched into Los Angeles and walked out with a 26-13 win. Sean McVay, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley now have a playoff win under their belts. That alone will give this Rams team confidence entering their third trip (preseason included) to the Superdome this season.

Taking a look at the Rams offense against the Saints defense, Gurley and C.J. Anderson have their work cut out for them against the NFL’s second-ranked run defense. The Saints also racked up the fifth-most sacks in the regular season. If the Rams cannot get the run game going, which they almost fully relied on last week against Dallas, Goff and company are in trouble. As I said in last week’s divisional round preview, Goff gets flustered when the Rams need to abandon the run and trust his arm. Last week the Rams ran the ball 48 times compared to 28 pass plays. In week 9 Goff threw for 391 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, but the Rams failed to eclipse 100 rushing yards. If the same happens on Sunday, I’ll be intrigued to see how Goff responds.

Focusing on the Saints offense against the Rams defense, if the Rams let up 45 points again, they’ll be watching the Super Bowl on the couch. In that November 4 meeting, Brees posted 346 passing yards with four touchdowns, while the Saints combined for 141 yards on the ground. Michael Thomas caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, eerily similar to his line against the Eagles on Sunday – 12 receptions, 171 yards, and a touchdown. Thomas vs. Marcus Peters is a matchup that everyone will have their eye on following some interesting comments from Peters in response to Sean Payton. A piece of the Rams defense that they did not have in week 9 is cornerback Aqib Talib, who will bring some physicality that wasn’t there in November.

In the end, I think the Saints find a way to advance to their second Super Bowl of Brees’s career. I have confidence that the Saints defense will take away the run and put the game on the shoulders of Goff. I think Wade Phillips and the Rams defense correct a lot of the mistakes that they made in their prior meeting with New Orleans, leading to a lower-scoring game. I think the Saints score a go-ahead touchdown with two of three minutes remaining in the game and Goff comes just short of bringing the Rams back.

Score: Saints 34 Rams 29

NolanThe Rams pose a big threat to the Saints this weekend but I am going to stand by New Orleans as my pick to win it all. I was very nervous at the end of the Eagles and Saints game last week simply because I didn’t think the game would be close late in the fourth quarter. The good news is the Saints showed they were able to not only come back from a 14-point deficit, but also come away with a turnover with the game on the line. Much like the other three teams playing this weekend, the Saints rolled past a majority of their opponents because of their high scoring offense. I am even more confident in them after watching last week’s game because it showed me that New Orleans can handle themselves when things don’t go their way.

If Los Angeles is going to go into the superdome and win on Sunday they will have to continue to run the ball extremely well. Todd Gurley was able to play last week against Dallas but did not have to do it all as C.J Anderson continued to be a reliable option in the Rams backfield. Taking the pressure off of their young quarterback Jared Goff will be essential, especially in a very wild road environment. To his credit, Goff had a great game when the Rams visited New Orleans earlier this year. However, the Saints were up by 21 at one point in the second half and won.

Score: Saints 31 Rams 30

IanThe Rams come into this game fresh off the heels of a dominant 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys last week. I have often doubted the Rams’ toughness throughout their renaissance over the last few years. They are a flashy team in a flashy town and in the playoffs. Those types of teams will usually falter against a tougher, hard-nosed team.

The Rams shut that notion down last week as they out Dallas’ed Dallas. The Rams rushed for 273 yards in the contest and held Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys rushing attack to 50 yards. The Rams had two 100-yard rushers in journeymen CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley. I’d look for the Rams to try to lean on this type of ball-control, run-oriented offense this Sunday in New Orleans.

They need to commit to bracketing Michael Thomas defensively and will need their run defense to continue their run of strong play against Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. If they are able to do these things, I think they could emerge victorious.

They are taking on a Saints team that cruised throughout much of the regular season and has arguably the best homefield advantage in the NFL. They played the closest game of last week both in final score and to the eye test as they won a 20-14 decision against the Eagles.

The Saints struggled early, allowing Philly to jump out to a 14-0 lead before getting their way back into the game in the second quarter and going in front for good late in the third quarter on a Thomas touchdown catch. Thomas is a beast and the Saints will need to him to come up with another big game if they want to make it to the Super Bowl. If he duplicates the 120-catch 171-yard performance, it will be a sad day in New Orleans for the Rams.

The Saints defense held the Eagles to 99 yards after the first two drives of the game and that unit has been playing as good as any defense in football heading into this one. I think Sean Belichi…. McVay will have some new wrinkles in his offense this week. Couple that with a great game plan from Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and the Rams will punch their tickets to Atlanta. 

Score: Rams 31 Saints 27


 

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Image Credit: Musket Fire

AFC: #2 New England Patriots @ #1 Kansas City Chiefs – 6:40 pm – CBS

Jake: What can be stated about the Patriots that you don’t already know? They’ve made the AFC Championship game eight years in a row now, and are fighting to reach the Super Bowl for the fourth time in the last five years. If you’re a fan of any team other than the Patriots, you’re most likely rooting against them for several reasons, one of them simply being that watching the Patriots in the Super Bowl has gotten old. That’s certainly why I hope they don’t win.

On Saturday the Chiefs’ 31-13 win over the Colts gave Kansas City their first home playoff victory in 28 years. This is the fifth year in Andy Reid‘s six-year tenure that the Chiefs have reached the postseason, and the second time Kansas City was awarded a bye. In the 2016 season the Chiefs clinched the #2 seed, but lost to the Steelers in the divisional round. Last year told a similar tale as the 9-7 Tennessee Titans marched into Arrowhead Stadium and pulled off a 22-21 upset.

The difference for the Chiefs this year is that they now have Patrick Mahomes playing quarterback at an MVP-caliber level. In his first full season as Kansas City’s starting quarterback, In the regular season Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns came at the expense of the Patriots in October, with Tyreek Hill finishing the game with 142 yards and three touchdowns on seven receptions.

Tom Brady and the Patriots were disrespected last week before they gave the Chargers a 41-28 spanking. For the last few years the Patriots have looked old and slow at times in the regular season, but they always play their best football in the playoffs. What should scare Patriots fans is that while New England went 9-0 at Gillette Stadium this season, the Pats are 3-5 on the road and have lost their last three AFC Championship games played outside of Foxborough. Luckily for them, the quarterback that handed the Patriots all three of those losses – Peyton Manning – is retired.

Before I break down the matchups, I think it’s worth noting that Sunday’s forecast for Kansas City calls for a high of 25 degrees and a low of 20 degrees, but it will feel colder with the wind chill and the sun already setting before kickoff.

This game will likely turn into a similar shootout that we saw in October. It’s no mistake that the Chiefs have heavily relied on their offense this season. Kansas City finished with the NFL’s 31st ranked defense, going 31st against the pass and 27th versus the run. The Patriots will be just fine on offense. Anticipate Brady and Julian Edelman‘s connection to be strong just like last week, where Edelman caught nine passes for 151 yards. Although these two make up one of the NFL’s oldest quarterback-receiver duos, they’ve played on big stages like this for years. Combine that along with New England’s fifth-ranked run offense that ended with 155 yards during last Sunday’s win over the Chargers, and the Patriots will likely be scoring often. Honestly, the hardest challenge for the Patriots offense on Sunday will be the extremely loud crowd at Arrowhead.

Mahomes and company will also spend a lot of time scoring touchdowns on Sunday against the Patriots 21st-overall defense. Having Sammy Watkins back in-the-fold last week against the Colts proved big dividends. Watkins only caught six passes for 62 yards, but his presence alone took the Colts’ attention away from guys like Hill, Travis Kelce, and Damien Williams. This season the Chiefs are 9-2 with Watkins in the lineup and 3-2 without him. Kansas City faced some tough opponents without Watkins like the Rams, and his absence led to the Chiefs offense struggling at times late in the regular season. If Watkins takes the attention away from Hill and Kelce, the Chiefs can pick apart the Patriots defense. Don’t forget that Williams dashed for 129 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against the Chargers. If he can replicate that performance again on the frigid Arrowhead grass, look out.

This is a tough call, but the reason why I’m picking the Chiefs is because their weapons on offense are a lot better than what the Patriots have. The Chiefs are the #1 seed in the AFC for a reason. I picked against the Patriots last week and ate my words, and if the Patriots escape Kansas City with a win I would not be shocked at all. The Patriots have lost their last three AFC Championships on the road to Manning-led teams. I think that trend continues on Sunday. The Eagles dethroned the Patriots in Super Bowl 52 last season, and I think the Philly magic rubs off on Reid, a former Eagles head coach, this weekend.

Score: Chiefs 27 Patriots 24

Nolan: Just when you thought the Patriots couldn’t get any more unbearable, they come out this week and try to push themselves as an underdog team. Just because the Chiefs are a three-point favorite at home on Sunday doesn’t mean you can call yourself an underdog. Especially not the team that is playing in their eighth straight AFC championship game. In reality, it doesn’t matter what I or anyone else has to say because the Patriots are only doing this to appeal to their fan base and build some extra motivation.

As far as the game goes, I am going to pick the so-called underdogs. I still don’t have confidence that the Chiefs defense can stop Tom Brady or that strong Patriots run game with the game on the line. Patrick Mahomes will likely find a way to put up a good amount of points, even if the weather is foul, but I don’t think the Chiefs defense will stop the Patriots from storming back if it turns into a shootout like their meeting earlier this year. Kansas City will enjoy the benefits of playing at home but in the end the experience of Bill Belichick and Brady makes them more favorable than Andy Reid and Mahomes in my eyes.

Score: Patriots 38 Chiefs 35

Ian: Here we are getting ready for the AFC Championship and the Patriots are here again. Lady Brady and Lord Belichick guided their Patriots machine to their eighth  consecutive AFC Championship appearance courtesy of a  41-28 shellacking of the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Patriots dominated against LA, scoring touchdowns on their first four drives of the game and staking themselves to what amounted to a 35-7 lead at halftime. Brady was lights out per usual, finishing 34-for-44 for 343 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots have found a running game to in rookie running back Sony Michel, who picked up 129 yards and three touchdowns. Brady wasn’t sacked and that will be the key to New England’s success at Arrowhead this Sunday.

New England’s defense shut down the Chargers offense last weekend. The Patriots defense held  them to punts on five of their first six drives before allowing a few fourth quarter touchdowns late to make the score line look better. It could be a long day for this group as Patrick Mahomes and company have scored an average of 32 points-per-game at home this season.

Mahomes and the Chiefs throttled the Indianpolis Colts 31-13 this past Saturday to advance to the AFC title game. Mahomes didn’t pass for any touchdowns for the first time this season but he finished 27-for-41 for 278 yards and a rushing touchdown. In the passing game Travis Kelce had 108 yards receiving and Tyreek Hill chipped in eight catches for 72 yards. Sammy Watkins returned to the lineup and added six catches for 62 yards.

Mahomes’s  touchdown run was one of four rushing touchdowns for Kansas City on the day with Hill, Darrel Williams, and Damien Williams also adding scores on the ground. The Chiefs passing attack is normally where their bread is buttered, but their ability to establish a running game last week leads to another dimension for Belichick to gameplan for this Sunday.

The much-maligned Chiefs defense does one thing well: get to the quarterback. They finished tied for first in sacks with 52 on the season. Chris Jones finished third in the NFL with 15.5 sacks and fellow sack artist Dee Ford finished tied for eighth with 13. Ford picked up one of three sacks last week against the Colts with veteran Justin Houston picking up the other two. J. Houston finished with nine sacks in the regular season.

Brady doesn’t move well, the Chiefs consistently get to the quarterback. I am not one to pick against Brady and Belichick often especially in the playoffs, but I think the pass rush will be too much for the Pats.

Score: Chiefs 30 Patriots 22

Featured Image Credit: Vegas Sports Zone

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Podcast Episode 34: Talking Ravens OC change, who’s going to the Super Bowl, and the red hot Terps

Image Credit: Last Word On Pro Football 

Welcome to Episode 34 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

At the top of the show this week, Jake, Nolan, and Ian check in on the Ravens days after Eric DeCosta officially took over as the team’s general manager (6:55). The guys address the team’s decision to replace Marty Mornhinweg with Greg Roman at offensive coordinator and the rumors about the Ravens negotiating with C.J. Mosley on a new contract.

After our Ravens convo wraps up, the football talk expands to the NFL Playoffs (30:54). Jake owns up to going 1-3 in the divisional round, the guys agree that the Ravens would have put up a tougher fight against the Patriots than the Chargers did, and more! You’ll also hear our picks for the conference championship games this weekend.

Up next, the gang breaks down the Maryland Men’s Basketball team’s six-game winning streak that has the Terps ranked #19 in the country (53:27). Even with Mark Turgeon’s questionable coaching decisions, both in-game and with team management, can the Terps keep up their stellar season?

To wrap up the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Baltimore sports athletes to wear the number 34 (1:04:11).

You can find the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Google Play. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Thanks for listening!

Be sure to check out the Charm City Bird Watch store to buy some newly-released clothing, including T-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, and hoodies!

Ravens head to the offseason with more questions than answers

The Baltimore Ravens saw their 2018 season come to an end Sunday in the Wild Card round with a 23-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium.

The final score was not indicative of how close the game was as the Chargers dominated the Ravens throughout the game. The Ravens defense kept the game within striking distance as the offense put together arguably the worst performance in NFL playoff history through three and half quarters.

Two garbage time touchdowns from Lamar Jackson to Michael Crabtree made the game close and the Ravens actually had the ball back with a minute to go and a chance to drive down the field and inexplicably win the game. Jackson fumbled on the final possession and the Ravens hit the offseason.

For the first time in 11 years, the offseason begins in Baltimore without Joe Flacco figuring to be a part of the quarterback equation. Flacco is expected to be cut or traded this offseason as the Ravens have officially handed the keys to the offense over to Jackson. Flacco was a class act one again in the locker room following what was likely his final game dressed in a Ravens uniform:

We know Joe won’t be here, but who will? There are more questions than answers as the Ravens hit their first offseason with Eric DeCosta calling the shots as Ozzie Newsome steps down as the team’s general manager.

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John Harbaugh wants to be back in Baltimore. But will he be? Image Credit: Getty Images

1) Is John Harbaugh the head coach?

The Ravens came out and announced that Harbaugh would be back as the head coach for the 2019 season prior to their contest with the Chargers in Week 16. They also said that both parties are working towards a contract extension to keep Harbaugh in Baltimore.

Harbaugh proceeded to lead the Ravens to a 22-10 win in that game before defeating the Cleveland Browns 26-24 in Week 17 to win the AFC North Division crown for the first time since 2012.

So Harbaugh is slated to be back right? Not so fast. Many pundits have stated that while the possibility for a contract extension in Baltimore does exist, it is also possible that could be done to help in facilitating a trade of Harbaugh to a team in need of a new head coach. Harbaugh has one year left on his current deal and that can’t be too reassuring if you are a suitor for Harbaugh’s services.

If the Ravens choose to part ways with Harbaugh, they need to request a king’s ransom. He has been to the playoffs in seven of his 11 seasons in Baltimore. He has often over-achieved with rosters that severely lack difference-making talent.

He took a 4-5 team that lost their starting quarterback at the bye week to a 6-1 record down the stretch and an AFC North crown. Whatever hot shot coaching candidate you might want, ask yourself what would happen if he had a 4-5 record at the bye and had to change starting quarterbacks. Collapse would be imminent.

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Mike Tomlin has been unable to keep the peace in Pittsburgh while the Ravens have had no public locker room discontent. Image Credit: Getty Images

The Ravens hadn’t been to the playoffs in three years prior to 2018 and many of this year’s players were a part of those teams. There was no in-fighting. No locker room discontent. Look at what is going on in Pittsburgh who had been to the playoffs four straight years. Their tight end is calling them the Kardashians of the NFL.

Look at the coaches that have been signed this offseason . Kliff Kingsbury to the Cardinals bringing his 35-40 record at Texas Tech with him. Matt LaFleur is on his way to Green Bay after taking the Titans offense to the 25th ranking this past year. Adam Gase is getting a shot with the Jets after going 23-25 at the helm of the Dolphins.

Give me Harbaugh and all that comes with him for as long as he wants to be here.

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The Ravens will need Lamar Jackson to put in a ton of work this offseason to make necessary improvements. Image Credit: Getty Images

2) Can the Ravens develop a sustainable offense and who develops it?

The offense that got the Ravens to the playoffs isn’t sustainable. If you’re not convinced of that after Sunday’s offensive nightmare, then I can’t help you.

There’s a lot of blame to go around for Sunday’s performance but the most obvious scapegoat has been the much maligned Marty Mornhinweg:

There’s 1000’s of these but you get the point.

Were people bashing Marty when the team was 6-1 down the stretch and absolutely torching opposing defenses with the NFL’S best run game? Of course not, they were handing that credit to the almighty Greg Roman. But nowhere this week did we see people giving Roman hell for the run game getting shut down on Sunday. Many believe he is the catalyst behind this offense but when it fails everyone goes right to Marty.

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Many folks are waiting for Marty Mornhinweg to be fired this offseason. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

Let’s look at what Marty has to work with on offense shall we? His left tackle Ronnie Stanley is average at best. Whoever they play at left guard stinks. Matt Skura at center is awful. Marshal Yanda is excellent. Orlando Brown Jr. looks like a solid get at right tackle.

His wide receivers stink. His tight end is a rookie who had a massive year and looks like he could become quite a factor moving forward. His running backs are an undrafted guy and another one that everyone wanted to cut heading into the season.

And here’s the kicker. The best thing you can say about his quarterback is that he is great at running the ball. Here’s a few breakdowns from people much smarter than I am to illustrate how frustrating this is:

There’s also 1000’s of these.

Jackson has a ton of work to do. His weaknesses are glaring. He has terrible footwork. He is wildly inaccurate whether it be from in the pocket or on the run. He struggles to hit any route with consistency outside the numbers. He is a turnover machine.

He’s a rookie. He can improve. He is an exceptional athlete and arguably the fastest player in the NFL. He needs to get significantly better for the Ravens to find their way back to the playoffs. The blueprint to shut him down is out and whoever is in charge of the Ravens offense next season has their work cut out for them to get this unit heading in the right direction.

But it’s not just Jackson that needs to improve. The Ravens need to make an effort to surround him with players that can help him succeed. The Ravens should be looking at offense all throughout the draft. Stanley and Brown Jr are likely your bookend tackles, but Stanley’s contract expires after next season. Tackle could be a need but not the biggest along the offensive line. Skura is a guard playing center and looks like it. Yanda isn’t going to play forever. James Hurst is a nice backup and the Ravens don’t have much to be excited about otherwise.

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The Ravens brain trust needs to get some weapons to help rookie QB Lamar Jackson. Image credit: SI

The Ravens also sorely need a wide receiver. What year is it? The same issue that has plagued this team throughout their existence here in Baltimore. The Ravens have drafted just one receiver in the first three rounds of the draft since 2013. Only Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs are impact players drafted outside of the first three rounds since 2013. You want to find an impact receiver, you better draft one early.

In their franchise history the Ravens have drafted just seven wideouts in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. In comparison the Steelers who are actually good at drafting receivers have taken 15 of them since the Ravens joined the NFL. The seven receivers the Ravens have drafted: Patrick Johnson (1998 Round 2), Travis Taylor (2000 Round 1), Devard Darling (2004 Round 3), Mark Clayton (2005 Round 1), Yamon Figurs (2007 Round 3), Torrey Smith (2011 Round 2), and Breshad Perriman (2015 Round 1). Yikes.

Lot of swings and misses in there. That doesn’t mean you stop swinging. Get a wide receiver early in this year’s draft. Get two of them I don’t care. Willie Snead can come back as Jackson seems to like him. If Michael Crabtree wants to be here and the Ravens want him fine. John Brown is gone. Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, and JaLeel Scott figure to be in the mix. That’s not good enough. Get him an early-round wide receiver, something you almost never did for Flacco.

The free agent crop features Adam Humprhies, Golden Tate, Robby Anderson, Cole Beasley, and Tyrell Williams. For the love of God please draft a wide receiver. Another retread scrub that wasn’t wanted by his prior employer isn’t going to help.

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The Ravens defense was dominant this season, but an offseason of change could be looming. Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

3) What does the defense look like?

Don “Wink” Martindale and his number one-ranked defense were the steadying force behind the Ravens 6-1 run to the AFC North crown. With a revitalized rushing attack giving them a bit more rest than they had been afforded the first nine weeks of the year, the defense stepped up throughout the run with key play after key play.

In the eight games with Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens gave up 18 points per contest, slightly above their season allowance of 17.9 points-per-game. But the real difference came in the way of turnovers. The Ravens generated 11 turnovers in the last eight games of the year after generating just six through the first nine weeks.

The defense also chipped in three scores in that time frame as well. The defense made game-clinching plays in contests against the Browns the last week of the year and the Bengals in Jackson’s first start in week 11.

For the Ravens to remain competitive with an offensive roster full of question marks, the defense will need to duplicate their performance from this season and once again be near the top of the league. The issue there is that this unit has a plethora of question marks in their own right.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

We may have seen the last of Terrell Suggs as a Baltimore Raven. Image Credit: USA Today

Terrell Suggs is a free agent. A team leader and staple of the Ravens defense, Suggs picked up seven sacks on the year, his lowest total 2009 given 13+ games played. He is 36-years-old and a fan favorite, but it will be interesting to see what his value is to the Ravens as well as what his value is on the open market. Suggs has made his wishes known:

Suggs said after the loss on Sunday “I will be lining up for somebody next year.”

Suggs isn’t the only pass rusher hitting the free agent market as Za’Darius Smith will be looking for a pay day after a career year. Smith picked up 8.5 sacks on the year, nearly doubling the 4.5 total sacks he recorded int he last two seasons combined. Pass rushers are typically a hot commodity come free agency and Smith’s figured to be handsomely rewarded this offseason.

C.J. Mosley is arguably the team’s most important soon-to-be free agent. The four-time Pro-Bowler has spent each of his five NFL seasons in Baltimore and has done a fantastic job in the center of the Ravens defense. Mosley is great against the run but often struggles in pass coverage.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Minnesota Vikings

C.J. Mosley is in line for a big day this offseason but will it be in Baltimore? Image Credit: USA Today

There are a lot of folks out there that believe that Mosley could command a deal similar to the five-year $62 million contract that Luke Kuechly received in 2015. This would put the Ravens in a tough spot as they are hoping to get out of some “salary cap hell” this offseason by cutting some veterans on “bad contracts.”  This would simply replace a bad contract with potentially another one.

Brent Urban is the other unrestricted free agent from Baltimore’s starting defense.  While he doesn’t generate the headlines of the other two key free agents, he is a player that plays a pivotal role inside for the Ravens, helping out Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce.

In the Restricted Free Agent (RFA) realm, the Ravens have two more defensive starters in Patrick Onwuasor and Pierce as notables. Restricted free agents normally receive “tenders” tied to draft pick compensation. These tenders allow the Ravens the right to match any deal that the RFA reaches with another team. If they choose not to match, the Ravens will receive a draft pick given which tender was assigned to the player. If no team signs the RFA to a contract, the Ravens would pay the allotted salary given the tender assigned.

2019 Projected RFA Tenders

Type Amount
First Round $4,429,000
Second Round $3,110,000
Original Round $2,035,000

 

Then comes “cap casualties.” For those who don’t know, if the Ravens have a player that has an undesirable salary cap hit for next season, the team could choose to cut the player to save money against the cap. There is dead money tied into these types of transactions. Dead money is defined as the amount of guaranteed money remaining on a cut player’s contract that will count against your salary cap that next season. Dead money is undesirable.

There are also different designations regarding cap casualties. Cutting a player prior to June 1 means that their dead money will all hit your salary cap the next year. Cutting them post June 1 spreads out the dead money against the next two season’s salary caps. For more on this check out this explanation.

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Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle could be cap casualties for the Ravens. Image Credit: Getty Images

The Ravens have quite a few players that fit the bill here on both sides of the ball. But as we continue focusing on defense here, Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle are all candidates for this. The chart below spells that out from Ravens Salary cap Guru Brian McFarland.

The Ravens would not be likely to sign up for the dead money associated with cutting Tony Jefferson and/or Williams so I would assume that they will be back.

So in total, the Ravens have Williams, Matthew Judon, Marlon Humphrey, and Jefferson as near certainties to be back on defense. The other seven starters’ status is currently unsettled. And that is unsettling.

The Ravens need to be smart about which defensive players they choose to put their money into. Bad deals on both sides of the ball have put the Ravens in the salary cap predicament that they have been in the last few seasons. Some relief is finally in sight. Will the Ravens take it? Or will they be in the same place three years from now with a new group of ugly contracts?

The answers await this offseason.

Image Credit: Russell Street Report