I'M BULLISH on the Ravens. A lot of things need to go right for this team, especially at the offensive skill positions and in the secondary (I'm looking at you, Lardarius Webb), but they're particularly strong in two areas—O-line and D—that are keys to strong postseason runs. I also think the Ravens are due for some luck. Meaning: They're unlikely to suffer as many crucial injuries as they did in 2014.
This is an article from the Sept. 7, 2015 issue
That's the type of rationale that last year led me to pick the Patriots to play the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. New England had fallen in the previous year's AFC title game with a rash of injuries; just a few healthy players would have pushed them to the top. They won it all last year, but remember: They needed total health and some well-timed trickery to get past a very beat-up Ravens team in their divisional playoff game. If Baltimore has health on its side, this team has the toughness to march through a wide-open AFC. The Broncos have the most talent, and their switch of defensive coordinators from the uninspired Jack Del Rio to the zany Wade Phillips will help immensely, but I'm not convinced Peyton Manning can get it done late in the year anymore. The Patriots' talent drain in the secondary can be covered up in the regular season, but not in the postseason against the best QBs. Joe Flacco, who owns a career 91.3 rating against New England and who carved up the Patriots' best secondary in years last January before a last-gasp interception, should find a weakened defense even more inviting this season. The Steelers and the Colts? They're both a year away on defense.
I don't know what to make of the NFC. Injuries have deeply hurt the Packers (Jordy Nelson) and the Cowboys (Orlando Scandrick), and the Eagles are too dependent on Sam Bradford's health. The Seahawks still have the talent and the coaching to become the first team in the salary-cap era to make it to three straight title games. But the Ravens are the type of team that can shut down Marshawn Lynch and make enough plays against Seattle's D to win a tight Super Bowl. Baltimore is the most well-rounded team, one that has a lot to prove given how last season ended.
GREG A. BEDARD'S DIVISION STANDINGS
NUMBER IN PARENTHESES: PLAYOFF SEED
RAVENS 34, STEELERS 30
COLTS 23, TEXANS 20
BRONCOS 27, COLTS 17
RAVENS 37, PATRIOTS 34
RAVENS 20, BRONCOS 17
SEAHAWKS 17, RAMS 16
PANTHERS 26, COWBOYS 18
EAGLES 27, PANTHERS 24
SEAHAWKS 20, PACKERS 17
SEAHAWKS 23, EAGLES 10
SUPER BOWL 50
Feb. 7, 2016
Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
RAVENS 23 SEAHAWKS 20