With the Ravens kicking off their 28th season in Baltimore against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Nine months have passed since Lamar Jackson limped to the locker room with some even wondering if we’d see the superstar quarterback in a Ravens uniform again. With this offense having a higher ceiling than ever, Jackson isn’t the only one anxious to see it in a real game.
2. Week 1 spawns overreaction, but Jackson has rushed seven or fewer times in three of the last four openers before leading the team in rushing each season. Though John Harbaugh acknowledges the “fair assumption” that Baltimore will pass more, the identity of this offense needs to breathe for a bit.
3. It’s safe to say Mike Macdonald will have the chance to show off his coaching chops to ease concerns at cornerback. With Rock Ya-Sin missing substantial summer time with a knee injury and Ronald Darby arriving only in mid-August, I’m honestly not sure what we’re going to see there Sunday.
4. The state of Houston’s offensive line should help with right tackle Tytus Howard going to injured reserve and the Texans already enduring multiple injuries at center. If Baltimore’s defensive front can’t exploit those positions to disrupt rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, pass-rush concerns will only grow.
5. Eric DeCosta said last week that Odell Beckham Jr. had “exceeded my expectations to this point” after a summer in which the three-time Pro Bowl receiver stayed healthy and looked the part of both a serious contributor and leader. The true test begins now after a flawless honeymoon.
6. There’s much excitement about Zay Flowers, but he’ll have a tough time matching the NFL debut of Marquise Brown, the speedy ex-Raven to which he’s compared. Though the 5-foot-9, 182-pound Flowers plays with more toughness, Brown’s two-touchdown, 147-yard performance was a Week 1 for the ages in Miami in 2019.
7. Though Beckham and Flowers garnered more attention this summer, I’d still prioritize getting Rashod Bateman involved early. After his difficult recovery from foot surgery and offseason spat with DeCosta, you want the talented 2021 first-round pick feeling good about his place in this offense. Of course, there’s only one football.
8. The Texans are expected to be among the NFL’s worst teams, but the defensive acumen of DeMeco Ryans and a Houston secondary with some promising young talent should provide a decent test. We’ll see what progress 2022 first-round cornerback Derek Stingley and 2022 second-round safety Jalen Pitre have made.
9. There’s always some unknown in Week 1, which is why it’s a credit to Harbaugh for being 11-4 in season openers. “It’s really not about the opponent per se as much as we execute, how we run, how we operate, how we play — play the way we envision ourselves playing.”
10. While reiterating the need to let the offense breathe, I’m interested to see how involved Patrick Ricard and Gus Edwards will be as Baltimore moves away from 22 personnel and heavy packages. It’s worth noting Pro Football Focus charted Ricard with 365 snaps as an in-line tight end last season.
11. According to Sharp Football, the Ravens ranked 27th, 30th, 26th, and 22nd in pace of play in neutral game scripts over the last four seasons under Roman. If nothing else, I expect a much quicker tempo under Todd Monken.
12. The Ravens will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of M&T Bank Stadium with nearly 40 former players expected to attend. A fan vote chose the 2013 snow game as the top moment in stadium history, but I’ll maintain this dramatic — and significant — victory being the right choice.
Prediction: The Ravens are the biggest favorite of Week 1 and have an NFL-best plus-206 point differential in season-opening matchups since Harbaugh’s arrival in 2008 while the Texans are rebooting with their fifth different head coach since the start of 2020. You don’t want to make too many assumptions with Baltimore starters sitting out the preseason and Week 1 being so volatile by nature, but there’s little excuse for a mostly healthy Ravens team not to handle its business in relatively comfortable fashion on Sunday. This game is more likely to be a blowout than a nail-biter that goes down to the final minute, so I’ll go with a 30-12 win for the home team with Jackson throwing touchdown passes to Beckham and Bateman.