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2007 Season Previews
Baltimore Ravens (Last Year: 13-3)
Veteran Additions:
RB Willis McGahee.
Draft Picks:
QB Troy Smith, FB Le'Ron McClain, OT Jared Gaither, G Ben Grubbs, G/OT Marshal Yanda, OLB Antwan Barnes, OLB Prescott Burgess, KR Yamon Figurs.
Major Subtractions:
RB Jamal Lewis (CLE), FB Ovie Mughelli (ATL), FB Nick Luchey, WR Alex Bannister, OT Tony Pashos (JAX), G Edwin Mulitalo (DET), NT Aubrayo Franklin (SF), OLB Adalius Thomas (NE).

Offense This Year: I think every single sportsbook in the world was taking bets on when Steve McNair would be injured during the 2006 campaign. McNair, known for his fragile frame, missed only 12 games between the years 2003 and 2005, but often had to play hurt, limping around the field on a bad leg or throwing with an injured shoulder. To the surprise of many, McNair played all 16 contests last season and remained unscathed, save for battles against Carolina and Cleveland, when he was knocked out and replaced by Kyle Boller.

How was McNair able to stay healthy? The offensive line was largely responsible. McNair was sacked only 14 times in 2006, which is absolutely nothing compared to the 42 sacks the front surrendered the year before. McNair capitalized on his protection, throwing for 3,050 yards and 16 touchdowns, and leading the Ravens to a 13-3 record. McNair utilized a trio of talented weapons: receivers Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason, and tight end Todd Heap. We all know about Mason and Heap, but the guy who shocked everyone was Clayton, who caught 67 passes for 939 yards and five touchdowns in only his second season. Rookie wide out Demetrius Williams came on late, notching 17 receptions in November and December after just five the previous two months.

The quality of the running lanes didn't seem to improve as much as the pass protection, but that's up for debate. Jamal Lewis rumbled for 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns, but only at a 3.6 clip. However, some people, including myself, will claim that Lewis was at fault for that hideous number. Ever since garnering 2,066 rushing yards in 2003, Lewis has either spent time on the injured list or struggled on the football field. Luckily for Baltimore, Lewis will be falling down after 2- and 3-yard gains in Cleveland next season. To replace Lewis, the Ravens signed Willis McGahee, a troubled running back who played for the Bills the past four years. While McGahee is undoubtedly talented, he often makes mental mistakes, resulting in the 3.8 yards-per-carry average he has maintained the previous two seasons.

If Baltimore wants to win the division again, McNair must stay healthy. It's as simple as that. While that wasn't a problem in 2006, it could be an issue this time around. First of all, the odds are against him; the chances McNair's luck continues are slim. More importantly, I doubt the Ravens' offensive line will be able to give its quarterback the protection it granted him last year. Right tackle Tony Pashos and left guard Edwin Mulitalo are both gone, and will be replaced by Adam Terry and rookie Ben Grubbs, respectively. Center Mike Flynn is still a liability. Meanwhile, Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden was seriously contemplating retirement this offseason. He decided to come back, but who knows what sort of mindset he's in? I think it's safe to say that McNair will be pinned to the ground more than 14 times in 2007.

Defense This Year: After surrendering 30 or more points on three occasions, and looking like a shadow of its former self in 2005, Baltimore's defense reestablished itself as one of the premier stop units in the league last year. The Ravens limited their opponents to 10 or less points seven times, and never gave up anything more than 26 points. They collected a whopping 60 sacks and amazingly picked off 28 passes. The difference was the acquisitions of Trevor Pryce and rookie Haloti Ngata.

Baltimore should be able to remain in the top 10 as far as the defensive department is concerned, but the stop unit definitely won't be as dominant as it was in 2006. Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who notched 11 sacks, defected for New England, leaving Jarret Johnson and his three career sacks in four seasons to take his place. The rest of the linebacking corps should still be productive, however. Terrell Suggs, 9.5 sacks, is a devastating pass rusher. Bart Scott, 103 tackles and 9.5 sacks, was one of the most improved players in the league last year. And Ray Lewis, 103 tackles and five sacks, who just turned 32, is still one of the top linebackers the NFL has to offer. But as I mentioned, the Thomas-to-Johnson downgrade may keep the Ravens from being as dominant as they were in 2006.

The rest of the defense remains intact. Baltimore's three-man line is arguably the best in the game. Ngata and Kelly Gregg clog running lanes, while Pryce has a knack for getting to the quarterback (team-leading 13 sacks). The secondary is also one of the NFL's finest. Chris McAlister, six interceptions and two touchdowns, is as close to Champ Bailey as you can get. Samari Rolle, despite the fact that he turns 31 in August, could be the league's top No. 2 corner. Free safety Ed Reed, five picks and one score, could go down as the best safety of all time. Meanwhile, strong safety Dawan Landry, brother of heralded rookie LaRon Landry, came out of nowhere in his first NFL season to become the perfect complement to Reed. Landry accumulated five interceptions and a touchdown in 2006.

Schedule and Intangibles: At age 39, Matt Stover is still one of the top kickers in the NFL. He hit 29-of-32 attempts in 2004, 30-of-34 in 2005 and 28-of-30 last season. ... Rookie Sam Koch nailed 30 punts inside the 20-yard line, which is pretty respectable. ... The Ravens are renowned for their special-teams touchdowns, but they failed to score one in 2006. Lightning-quick rookie Yamon Figurs might be able to help in that department. On the bright side, Baltimore didn't allow a single special-teams touchdown either. ... The Ravens' schedule seems pretty balanced. They'll feast on Arizona, Miami, possibly Buffalo and Cleveland twice. However, their final six weeks of the season looks like this: San Diego, New England, Indianapolis, Miami (a nice break), Seattle and Pittsburgh. That's pretty ridiculous.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

Divisional Rival History:
Cincinnati Bengals: When you go 13-3, chances are you sweep your division. That was not the case here, as the Ravens and Bengals split their two meetings, each winning at home. Cincinnati has claimed four of the past five meetings overall.
Cleveland Browns: The home team has claimed five of the past six battles. The lone exception was in 2006, as the Ravens beat the Browns by a slim margin, 15-14, despite being heavy favorites.
Pittsburgh Steelers: While records show that the host has won eight of the previous nine matchups, the two battles between Baltimore and Pittsburgh weren't even close last year. The Ravens were triumphant, 27-0 and 31-7.

Fantasy Football:
Steve McNair: The Ravens run a lot more than they throw, so don't expect much from Steve McNair in the fantasy department. He hasn't compiled more than 16 touchdowns in a single season since 2003, anyway.
Projected Stats: 2,800 passing yards. 15 passing TDs. 130 rushing yards. 2 rushing TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 255.

Willis McGahee: Willis McGahee garnered a 3.8 yards-per-carry average behind a decent offensive line. Now, he'll be running behind a front that allowed its former back to rumble at a 3.4 clip. Suddenly, McGahee doesn't seem too promising.
Projected Stats: 1,150 rushing yards. 150 receiving yards. 10 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 190.

Todd Heap: Brilliant. Consistent. Reliable. What more could you ask for?
Projected Stats: 800 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 116.

Mark Clayton: Quietly became the No. 1 receiver in Baltimore last year, compiling 67 catches for 939 yards and five touchdowns. If Clayton were in a more pass-happy offense, he'd be able to do major damage in fantasy football.
Projected Stats: 1,050 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 145.

Derrick Mason: Derrick Mason has had a respectable career, but at age 33, his skills and stats appear to be in decline. Nothing more than a solid fantasy backup at this point.
Projected Stats: 675 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 79.

Demetrius Williams: I think Demetrius Williams is going to be a rising star who will make a great impact in the NFL down the road. Problem is, he currently plays in an offense that can be really stagnant at times.
Projected Stats: 600 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 78.

Matt Stover: Still one of the top kickers in the game.
Projected Stats: 29-32 FG (1-1 50+). 34 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 132.

Baltimore Defense: Sixty sacks and 28 picks? How is that humanly possible? With Adalius Thomas gone, Baltimore won't be able to match those numbers, but they may come close.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 3 Defense.

Analysis: The loss of Adalius Thomas, Tony Pashos and a few other veterans will undoubtedly hurt, but I think the Ravens are still talented enough to make the playoffs and possibly win the division.

Projection: 11-5 (1st in the AFC North)

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