The Baltimore Ravens finished the 2015 season with a disappointing 5-11 record. Two of the five victories came at the expense of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They also beat the San Diego Chargers, who finished the season 4-12, the Cleveland Browns, who finished 3-13, and the St. Louis Rams, who finished their season 7-9.
Was this horrible performance an anomaly, or will losing seasons become the new normal for the Pittsburgh Steelers' arch rival? BTSC's Dani Bostick and Alex Peterman of Locker Room Update debate the issue.
Alex Peterman: The Ravens will be a big threat in 2016
Last year was all but an anomaly for the Baltimore Ravens. Awful luck with injuries and awfully close games culminated in a disappointing 5-11 season. And yet, 2015 mishaps aside, the Ravens will be back in AFC North contention in 2016.
First, nine of the Ravens' losses were by one score. This is perhaps the best 5-11 team I've ever seen - which, I know, isn't that impressive. But that's that nine games that very well could have gone either way. We're talking about the majority of the times that they fell short here. The only games in which this looked like a helpless 5-11 team were in blowout losses to the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs in Weeks 14 and 15, respectively. They were very much in every other game at some point in the fourth quarter.
Next - and this makes the close losses all the more meaningful and all the more painful - this team was nowhere near healthy. By the time the season was unraveling in the second half of the season, Joe Fallco had torn his ACL, leading receiver Steve Smith had torn his Achilles, Breshad Perriman had injured his knee, and Crockett Gillmore had injured his shoulder. On top of that, running back Justin Forsett broke his arm in late November against the St. Louis Rams. It's a litany of health issues that would have derailed just about any team, regardless of how good they were to start the season. I'm not saying that this Ravens squad was championship-bound if they stayed healthy, but they it's easy to speculate that they could have vied for a playoff bid.
Finally, the offseason has been kind. The Ravens got good news on Gillmore's surgery (he only needs it on one shoulder as opposed to both), and expect him to be available for at least part of next season. Currently, at least Flacco, Smith, Perriman, and Forsett are expected to be ready or close to ready for the start of training camp. The team also added tight end Ben Watson, the former Saints tight end who had somewhat of a breakout year in 2015. To secure their back-end, three-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle was also signed on a four-year deal. Ravens fans will be relieved to see a freshly revamped, healthy roster for the tart of 2016.
This is not a 5-11 team in terms of talent. This is a team that ended the 2015 season with a middle-of-the-pack offense and the 8th ranked defense, despite being decimated by injuries across the board. In 2016, this roster looks dangerous: don't be surprised if they make a strong case for the AFC North.
Dani Bostick: The Baltimore Ravens will be a non-factor in 2016
I'm not ready to say that the Baltimore Ravens are en route to becoming the Cleveland Browns of the AFC North. The Cleveland Browns will be the Cleveland Browns of the AFC North for the foreseeable future. There is just too much dysfunction within that organization.
Although the Ravens won't be the worst team in the AFC North in 2016, they will not be a legitimate contender in the AFC North and will finish in the bottom half of the NFL at the end of the regular season. Even if they win fluke games against the Steelers, as they did in 2015, the team is in too great a state of disrepair to be a legitimate threat. Here's why:
1) The Ravens are plagued with injuries. Tight end Crockett Gillmore will miss part of the 2016 season. Quarterback Joe Flacco is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in November in the final minutes of the Ravens game against St. Louis. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon in the season opener against the Denver Broncos. Suggs turns 34 in October, so he is far from peak form and health. In sum, the age of certain players and the timing of 2015 injuries do not bode well for a complete and completely healthy 2016 season.
2) Joe Flacco is not that good. The fact that "Joe Flacco is elite" became such an overused joke speaks volumes. While he is certainly a competent quarterback, he is not elite. Even healthy, the team has struggled with Flacco at the helm and had to rely more on its defense than offense. A dearth of offensive weapons also compromised Flacco's peformance in 2015. While he can manage a game, he cannot turn relative unknown, undeveloped players into superstars.
3) The Ravens were horrible at personnel management. Only three starters remain from the 2012 Super Bowl squad. Outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw just signed with the Falcons, leaving only Flacco, guard Marshal Yanda, and linebacker Terrell Suggs. Until the retirement of Heath Miller last month, the Steelers still had four players from their 2008 Super Bowl team on the roster. Fundamentally, the Ravens team is not a championship squad. They hemorrhaged talent and failed to budget wisely. They failed the Marshmallow Test.
They have had a busy offseason thus far, but aging Eric Weddle, their best acquisition, is no match for the Steelers' dominant offense. It will take a phenomenal draft for the Ravens to be more than mediocre.
4) Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is a weak link. Marc Trestman did a horrible job as head coach of the Chicago Bears, and his 2015 season with the Ravens did not inspire much confidence in his ability to create a dynamic offense. Injuries and limited depth cannot possibly account for the dismal performance of the offense in 2015. As long as Trestman is at the helm of the offense, the team's potential will be stunted.
The Ravens will be a great team again, one day. Even while they are performing badly, it is clear they can still be a formidable threat to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Until the team rebuilds and finds the right personnel (players and coaching staff), they will not be contenders for postseason play.
Alex Peterman is a senior journalist at the University of Florida where he is credentialed to cover Gators baseball and football. His main beat as been the Cincinnati Bengals, having worked for a variety of outlets including Cincy Jungle here on SB Nation. His main endeavor these days is Locker Room Update.