The collapse of the New Orleans Saints’ home mystique is one of the stories of this 2014 season, and will probably be the main national talking point coming out of Monday night’s NFL doubleheader. I’m a lot more interested in the team that played in the Superdome with a legitimate chance to make noise in January.
The Baltimore Ravens, now 7-4, have largely been out of the spotlight since Ray Rice was suspended by the league. They have the talent and the balance to get plenty of attention while we sort out the AFC North, where all four teams have seven wins.
The Ravens have a vastly improved offense, which was on display Monday in their 34-27 victory. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is the new Mike Shanahan, bringing big rushing totals to stars and unknowns alike wherever he carries his zone blocking scheme. Justin Forsett is up to third in the league in rushing after his 182-yard effort, and Baltimore’s punishing offensive line gives the team an identity.
Joe Flacco has been up and down, but overall he looks like a fit in Kubiak’s system. When he’s been on this year, he’s been really on. Steve Smith and Torrey Smith can both make big plays for him, which we saw Monday.
The defense is not what it once was, but it’s played well enough to rank seventh in Football Outsiders’ metrics. Brandon Williams and Haloti Ngata rival any run-stopping duo in the league, as the Saints learned on the goal learn on their first drive. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, with 17.5 combined sacks, form a fine pass rushing duo. Linebacker C.J. Mosley could be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. The secondary is a problem, and there will be no obvious fixes with Jimmy Smith out for the year. But overall this is a defense you can win with. This is a team that can win different styles of games.
This will be a wild finish in the AFC, especially the AFC North. Baltimore faces San Diego and Miami over the next two weeks and finish with Cleveland, so they have the chance to take out some of their conference competition. It might take 11 wins for Baltimore to make the playoffs, but we believe they have the squad to pull it off.