Ravens hoping road success continues against Patriots in rematch of last season’s AFC title game
For the second year in a row the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will face off with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line when the two teams kick things off in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS. The Ravens lost 23-20 to the Patriots in Gillette Stadium in last year’s AFC title game, as wide receiver Lee Evans couldn’t hold onto a potential game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
Top-seeded Broncos looking for second win in less than a month over Ravens
Arguably the NFL’s best offensive and defensive players of the past decade will go head-to-head one last time when the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos meet in Saturday’s AFC Divisional playoff game at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS. The Ravens defeated Indianapolis 24-9 in last Sunday’s Wild Card game, allowing linebacker Ray Lewis the chance to celebrate a win in his final home game. All that stands between Lewis and extending his Hall of Fame career by at least one more game are the top-seeded Broncos, who are led by quarterback Peyton Manning.
Playoff-tested Ravens’ matchup with upstart Colts full of emotional storylines
The NFL’s feel-good story of the 2012 season will collide with what will be the final chapter of a legendary career when the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens take the field for Sunday’s AFC Wild Card game at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. On one sideline are the Colts (11-5), who have won five out of their last six games and got Chuck Pagano, their head coach and inspirational leader, back on the sidelines last week.
Giants need win over reeling Ravens to stay alive in NFC playoff chase
The New York Giants will try and keep their playoff hopes alive by handing the Baltimore Ravens a fourth straight defeat when they meet at 4:25 p.m. ET this afternoon on FOX. The defending Super Bowl champion Giants (8-6) must rebound from last week’s disheartening 34-0 loss in Atlanta if they want to have any chance at a possible repeat, while the Ravens (9-5) would like to turn things around in their quest to win a second straight AFC North crown.
The best first-year players in NFL history, or at least since Gale Sayers was a rookie.
It's rare that a first-year player comes into the NFL and has an immediate impact on the game. But it does happen. Athlon Sports looks back at the best rookie players in NFL history, or at least since Gale Sayers took the field in 1965.
The AFC Championship Game rematch should be an intense contest.
Two elite teams will be looking to avoid a 1-2 start when the Baltimore Ravens host the New England Patriots tonight at 8:20 p.m. EST on NBC. Much will be made about the heartbreaking nature of Baltimore’s AFC Championship Game loss in New England last season, but the reality is that both of these squads with Super Bowl aspirations need to rebound from excruciating losses last week.
What can the Baltimore Ravens do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.
Inside the Locker Room
with Aaron Wilson, Carroll (Md.) County Times
If you are in a keeper or dynasty league, we believe the following players will begin their descent down the rankings after this season.
Steven Jackson, RB – STL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 14
Jackson, one of the league’s last true workhorses, turned 28 in July. Even at such a young age, he’s already cracked the NFL’s top 40 in career carries with 1,878. He’s bounced back from missing a combined eight games in 2007 and ’08, but the Rams still probably won't be involving Cadillac Williams or Jerious Norwood in the game plan enough to releive pressure from Jackson.
Michael Turner, RB – ATL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 16
Turner’s YPC average dropped to a career-low 4.1 last season, and that was with a cohesive offensive line. The Falcons’ front wall could have three starters leave via free agency, and several untested youngsters would fill the holes. Add the potential deep threat of Julio Jones, and Turner may not be needed or able to roll the kinds of numbers we’re used to seeing.
Reggie Wayne, WR – IND Athlon Top 280 Rank: 27
In single-season leagues, Wayne is still elite. If you have to plan for next year, though, free agency could rear its ugly head. Wayne still produces like a top-10 receiver, but at the age of 32, will the Colts be willing to pay him like one until he’s 37 or 38?
Anquan Boldin, WR – BAL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 51
Boldin’s chemistry with QB Joe Flacco was slow to develop last season, so the two worked together as much as possible during the lockout. Even so, the Ravens will also look to get rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss up to speed with Flacco. Boldin absorbs a lot of shots and will be 31 in October, so tailor your expectations when deciding what receivers to keep.
Cedric Benson, RB – CIN Athlon Top 280 Rank: 60
There's a lot of wear on these tires. Benson ranks fourth amongst running backs in touches per game over the last three seasons at 22 TPG (901 overall over 41 games). There aren't a lot of options in Cincy with rookie Andy Dalton quarterbacking the team, so the ball will find itself in Benson's hands a lot this season as well. So add another 300 touches and that's 1,200 touches on a player that will be 30 near the end of next season.
Tony Gonzalez, TE – ATL Athlon Top 280 Rank: 123
It’s not breaking news that Gonzalez is getting old (35 this season). The developing news is how the Falcons’ offense will integrate rookie Julio Jones and to what extent the deep ball will be emphasized. If Jones’ speed becomes a focal point quickly, there will be much less need for Matt Ryan to target his tight end 100-plus times.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB – NYJ Athlon Top 280 Rank: 97
L.T. leaped off the line like a classic muscle car in 2010, averaging 106 yards from scrimmage in the first five games. From Week 6 on, the car had a flat. In the season’s last 11 games, he averaged 3.3 yards per carry. In the last five, he caught only nine passes for 53 yards. Whether he even stays in the game could be riding on how he produces this season.
Steve Smith, WR – CAR Athlon Top 280 Rank: 108
His flagging production can be blamed on bad quarterback play even more than the aging process. Still, Smith Version 1.0 has dealt with nagging injuries for years (2004 was his last 16-game season) and a nagging one already sidelined him this training camp (a finger injury).
Charles Woodson, DB – GB Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 31
Soon to be 35, Woodson carries the perpetual threat of retirement. Even this year’s production may be restricted by his increased use as a slot corner. He can attack running backs and force fumbles like no other CB in the game, but don’t plan on a huge interception total.
Ray Lewis, LB – BAL Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 34
Lewis’ continuing production is impressive. Still, his coverage ability is beginning to suffer thanks to Father Time, and it’s possible that he may continue to soldier on when his tackling begins to do the same. He remains a leader on the field, but there are better (read: younger) options for your fantasy squad.
Brian Urlacher, LB – CHI Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 45
Dhani Jones didn’t rate him as one of the league’s top 10 linebackers, and many might agree. Like Lewis and London Fletcher, he’s still productive despite his creeping age, and younger players are racking up comparable numbers. Draft them first.
London Fletcher, LB – WAS Athlon Top 100 IDP Rank: 99
A linebacker playing in 208 straight games is an incredible feat. Fletcher is 36 years old and still producing, but the linebacker position has a fresh jolt of talent on the rise. Even if London keeps calling on opposing ballcarriers, it’s hard to draft him over guys like Lawrence Timmons or A.J. Hawk.
BALTIMORE • Inside the Locker Room with Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Anquan Boldin posted his worst totals in catches and yards since 2004. Will his production return to its normal levels?
It’s unlikely that he'll generate significantly higher numbers due to his declining speed and average chemistry and timing with Joe Flacco. Plus, the Ravens remain committed to running the football with Ray Rice, and Boldin has to share the possession workload with other receiving targets. He’s not always the first option in the red zone. Boldin is a consummate professional, but his stats will remain static.
Can/will Torrey Smith be the downfield threat needed in this offense?
Smith has the requisite size, speed and skill to emerge as a dynamic deep presence. The Ravens drafted him specifically to stretch defenses. He appears to have enough polish to get on the field.
Flacco has increased his yards and TDs three years straight. Will he make it four?
Definitely a strong possibility considering that John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome intend to increase Flacco’s freedom to lead the offense. Flacco is extremely durable and seems poised to assert himself more this year.
Who are the long-term keeper options to replace Mason and Todd Heap?
Wide receiver Tandon Doss, a fourth-round pick from Indiana with good hands and crisp routes, and tight end Ed Dickson, an athletic former Oregon star who had his moments as a rookie, are the top candidates.b
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: IND, @SD, CLE
OK, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice owners, you have a solid chance at winning your opening playoff round, and if you make it that far your title game looks good, too. The bugaboo is San Diego, on the road, in the middle (No. 1 vs. the pass and No. 4 vs. the run last season). But you get the Colts’ 25th-ranked run defense and the Browns’ 27th-ranked run-stoppers on either side; Cleveland’s pass defense also ranked 18th.
• Athlon Best Bets Sleeper: Torrey Smith, WR Deep-Sleeper: Tandon Doss, WR Overvalued: Defense/Special Teams Top Rookie: Jimmy Smith, DB Bounce-Back: Anquan Boldin, WR Top IDP: Terrell Suggs, DL
• Try to Avoid Ed Dickson, TE
No Derrick Mason. No Todd Heap. And the Ravens sign Vonta Leach to clear the way for more ground and pound (or at least dump offs) with Ray Rice. It’s probably a year too early for Dickson to be thrown into the fold as the team’s starting TE, and he may perform as such. WAIT UNTIL: 19th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
The Ravens desperately needed to add depth and speed to the receiving corps, and the selections of Smith and Doss should address both of those issues. Smith is more likely to make an impact in 2011, as he was one of the fastest receivers in the draft and gives the offense a much-needed weapon on the outside. The Ravens must find a running back to spell Ray Rice. Anthony Allen will have an opportunity to help in short-yardage situations and to serve as the No. 2 back.
Optimistic words continue to filter out about the end of the NFL lockout, heralding the possible beginning of free agency, training camps, and the preseason. Also looming will be the Supplemental Draft, where former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor will learn his NFL destination.