AFC East: Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens have the toughest remaining schedule of all of the contenders for the final wild-card spot in the AFC. The Ravens play division leaders exclusively in the final three weeks of the regular season: at the Detroit Lions, home against the New England Patriots and at the Cincinnati Bengals.

Which one is the toughest? According to readers of the Ravens' blog, it's the home game against the Patriots.

Of the nearly 6,800 votes in the SportsNation poll, 41 percent called the rematch of the past two AFC Championship games the hardest remaining game left on the Ravens' schedule. The regular-season finale at the Bengals finished a close second (38 percent), and Monday night's game at the Lions placed third (21 percent).

Here are selected comments from readers:

Ryan (Boston): Even taking into consideration the loss of Rob Gronkowski and the fact it's a home game, this is still the toughest. Tom Brady probably remembers that AFC Championship loss like it was yesterday, and this has in recent years become one of the better rivalries in the NFL.

Ben (Severna Park, Md.): I believe that it would be the Bengals. Then followed by the Lions and Patriots in that order. The Bengals will be the toughest because they are playing the best football right now out of these three teams and the fact that the game is in Cincinnati.

Steve (Piscataway, N.J.): I believe the Detroit game is the key. New England is at home, and if they win this week they wrap up their division, I wonder about their motivation. Seeding is still up for grabs, but not over resting injured players. I would also argue that the Bengals might be in a similar position the last week. We need to win in the Motor City -- period!

Eric (McLean, Va.): The easiest game in my opinion is easily the Patriots, just because it is at home. Baltimore is a different team at home, not to mention the Ravens have never won a road game with an NFC North opponent and lost both road games they have played in the division so far.

John (West Chester, Pa.): Wouldn't you think the Bengals would be the toughest game? The Bengals beat New England and Detroit. Makes the most sense that, if there is anything on the line in the last game, this would be the toughest.

Chris (Dauphin, Pa.): The Ravens' toughest game is always the next one!

Live blog: Ravens at Dolphins

October, 6, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the Baltimore Ravens' visit to the Miami Dolphins. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Live blog: Ravens at Bills

September, 29, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the Baltimore Ravens' visit to the Buffalo Bills. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Double Coverage: Ravens at Bills

September, 26, 2013
Fred Jackson and Bernard PierceUSA TODAY SportsWith ailing starters on both teams, RBs Fred Jackson and Bernard Pierce could see a lot of action Sunday.
The Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills will meet Sunday for the first time since 2010, when Baltimore edged Buffalo 37-34 in overtime.

It's only September, but it might not be too early to call this a must-win for the Bills, who sit at the bottom of the AFC East at 1-2. If Buffalo can't pull out a win over the Ravens on Sunday, they face a tough four-game stretch that begins next Thursday in Cleveland.

The Ravens, on the other hand, must be feeling good after toppling the Houston Texans 30-9 last week. They are now 2-1 and in first place in the AFC North. Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley dig deeper into this matchup.

Mike Rodak: Jamison, all the talk this offseason was about how the Ravens were set for a Super Bowl slide. After losing some key veterans on both sides of the ball, they just weren’t going to be the same team, some said. That belief seemed to hold up in their opener, in which the Denver Broncos had their way with Baltimore, scoring 49 points. But in the past two weeks, we’ve seen the Ravens pick up steam at home, handily defeating the Texans on Sunday. Was Week 1 just an anomaly, and have the Ravens overcome their offseason changes?

Jamison Hensley: Mike, not to sound too much like an apologist, but the Ravens were in a tough spot in Denver. They were facing a Broncos team that waited seven months for revenge and had seven new starters from the Super Bowl team that faced Peyton Manning. The Ravens have since changed their personnel in the secondary and their attitude in coverage. Baltimore benched safety Michael Huff and cornerback Corey Graham after the season opener. The Ravens went with two first-round picks, rookie safety Matt Elam and cornerback Jimmy Smith. Baltimore also became more aggressive with receivers and more physical in breaking up passes.

Of course, what also helps is having Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil coming off the edge. They've been able to put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks, such as Brandon Weeden and Matt Schaub. Rushing EJ Manuel is totally different. Have the Bills protected their rookie quarterback this season? And how has Manuel handled the pass rush?

Rodak: If you asked me that last week, Jamison, I think the answer would have been that the offensive line had done a great job protecting Manuel. Through two games, they allowed just one sack, second in the NFL to the Rams, but the flood gates opened last week. The Bills knew the Jets were going to blitz -- that’s the hallmark of Rex Ryan’s defense -- and they couldn’t stop it. Manuel was sacked eight times and hit 16 times. He completed only 45 percent of his throws, and some of his incompletions were ugly. The concern on the Bills’ end, I think, is that teams will copy the Jets’ model going forward, bottling up C.J. Spiller and forcing Manuel to throw downfield. Coach Doug Marrone was asked about this possibility Monday and said that he expects teams to blitz but feels as though it will open up the big play. While he gave credit to the Jets, Marrone said he felt they left some big plays out there Sunday.

For the Bills, Spiller is dealing with a thigh injury, but he expects to play Sunday. What about Ray Rice, who has a hip injury?

Hensley: Rice missed his first game since 2008 when he sat out Sunday. Coach John Harbaugh said Rice has "a chance" to play against the Bills, and I expect him to be labeled the proverbial game-time decision. The bigger question is whether the Ravens are going to get their run game on track, with or without Rice. The Ravens are averaging 2.6 yards per carry, which is next to last in the NFL. Backup running back Bernard Pierce was held to one yard or less on 11 of his 24 carries against the Texans. He's a one-cut-and-run-downhill type of a runner, and he looked very indecisive. The offensive line, especially tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher, have struggled to open holes.

One of the biggest keys of the game will be whether the Ravens can run at Buffalo. I see the Bills are allowing 155 yards rushing per game. Is that number inflated? Or is there a big concern with the Bills' run defense?

Rodak: There’s definitely concern with the Bills’ run defense. They’re actually allowing more yards per game than they did last season, when they allowed 145 yards per game, 31st in the NFL. They’re tied with Washington as second worst this season. However, it’s worth noting that teams are racking up most of their rushing yards in the middle of the field. Once opponents get deep inside Bills territory, they struggle to run. Buffalo allows just 2.36 yards per rush inside its own 25-yard line, 10th best in the NFL. That’s when a well-stocked defensive line, especially Kyle Williams, seems to be at its best.

What has plagued the Bills, though, is their third-down defense. They rank 27th in the NFL and struggled, especially in the first half, to stop the Jets on third down last week. Jamison, is that something Joe Flacco and the Ravens can exploit?

Hensley: The Ravens are ranked eighth in third-down conversions (44 percent), but this fails to tell the whole story. Over the past two games, Baltimore converted only three of 14 third downs (21.4 percent) in the first half. After halftime, the Ravens have converted 13 of their 18 third-down chances (72.2 percent). The Ravens are going to have to figure out a way to start faster on offense. Torrey Smith and Brandon Stokley are tied for the most third-down catches on the team with seven, although there's a disparity between the average yards for those catches between Smith (24.3) and Stokley (8.3). The Ravens' pass protection has held up well for Flacco this season and limited the Texans' J.J. Watt to one sack. The challenge this time is Mario Williams. Will Baltimore have the same success? We'll find out Sunday.

CANTON, Ohio -- It has been a banner 2013 for the Baltimore Ravens.

First, the Ravens won their second Super Bowl in franchise history in February. Then, future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis retired as a champion at the top of the NFL ladder.

On Saturday, Baltimore’s landmark calendar year continued as former left tackle Jonathan Ogden became the first homegrown Raven to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not only was Ogden a first-round pick, but he was the Ravens’ first pick in franchise history in 1996.

Ogden helped lift the Ravens to where they are today. He put a bow on his 12-year football career Saturday by also becoming the first player enshrined of the 2013 class.

“I just really want to thank the fans and the city of Baltimore,” Ogden said Saturday. “When I came to the Ravens in 1996, we had no team, we had no history. We didn’t even have team colors. We just had a name. … The Ravens were new to everybody.”

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome introduced Ogden. According to Newsome, who is one of the NFL's top talent evaluators, Ogden played left tackle as good or better than player in history. Newsome said the keys were Ogden’s immense size and the feet of a defensive back.

Ogden reached 11 Pro Bowls in 12 seasons and won a Super Bowl. He was drafted in the first round in 1996 along with Lewis, who was in attendance and will surely follow Ogden to Canton in five years.

Odgen began his speech Saturday with a joke. He mentioned how former running back and draft bust Lawrence Phillips was also being considered by the Ravens with their first ever pick.

As Ogden mentioned, Baltimore made the right choice and the rest was NFL history.
Numbers don’t lie -- and neither does the game film.

That was my first reaction to Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark's remarks that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sometimes "sees ghosts" in the pocket. I've watched games in person where Brady ducks, flinches or slides away from phantom pressure in the pocket. At 35, it happens more and more at the latter stages of Brady's career.

"In 2010, we saw it start with the Jets in the playoffs," Clark explained on ESPN's "NFL Live" this week. “When Tom Brady gets pressure and when you're man-to-man and bumping those guys and making it hard for him to throw, he sees ghosts.

"Even when guys aren't around him, even when he's not about to be sacked, when his clock goes off in his head that the ball should be out, we'll see him duck, we'll see him flinch. When you get Tom Brady doing that, the whole New England Patriots mystique goes away."

The statistics also back Clark's analysis.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Brady’s completion percentage drops from 68.2 percent to 42.3 percent when he holds onto the ball three seconds or longer. New England is very much a timing and rhythm offense. As Clark mentioned, opponents increase their chances of success by throwing off Brady's timing with his receivers. Brady’s Total Quarterback Rating also falls from a stellar 81.1 to an average 59.7 when he holds the ball three seconds or longer.

You cannot fault Brady for wanting to avoid big hits. Brady has been sacked 59 times the past two seasons, and each year those hits become harder to take. Brady, who just signed a contract extension through 2017, wants to play until he's 40. The only way he accomplishes that goal is by avoiding clean hits in the pocket.

The blueprint is out there to beat Brady. Teams like the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants have consistently beaten New England doing many of the things Clark explained. However, it's much easier said than done for most teams.

Clark and the Steelers will get their chance to make Brady see "ghosts" this upcoming season when Pittsburgh travels to Gillette Stadium to face Brady and the Patriots on November 3.
The Miami Dolphins' search for a starting offensive tackle continues. Free-agent left tackle and former University of Miami star Bryant McKinnie agreed to a two-year contract with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, the team announced.

McKinnie reportedly received significant interest from the Dolphins, Ravens and San Diego Chargers in free agency. But McKinnie opted to return to Baltimore, where he spent the past two seasons and won a Super Bowl.

The Dolphins have not filled their left tackle position since four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long signed with the St. Louis Rams in free agency. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is entering his second season, and pass blocking will be key to his development.

With McKinnie gone, Miami’s free-agent options continue to dwindle. The Dolphins also recently met with veteran free-agent tackles Eric Winston, Winston Justice and Tyson Clabo this offseason.
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins are still searching for a left tackle to replace four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long, who bolted to the St. Louis Rams in free agency.

Free-agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who is a former Pro Bowler and star at the University of Miami, is still looking for work after helping the Baltimore Ravens win a Super Bowl.

Is Miami a potential match?'s AFC East blog caught up with McKinnie at his charity event Sunday evening to benefit the South Beach All-Stars youth basketball team. The left tackle and former Hurricane said he's not on the Dolphins' radar.

"No," McKinnie responded to whether Miami reached out. "I think a lot of teams are trying to wait until after the draft to see what they can get and just go from there. But I don't mind waiting until after the draft."

McKinnie said he is getting interest from the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and the Ravens this offseason. A return to Baltimore is still a good possibility, according to McKinnie.

"[The Ravens] have also been hitting me up and keeping me in the loop," McKinnie said. "They also want me to keep them in the loop to make sure I don't make any decisions before anything is final."

Despite Miami's lack of interest, McKinnie likes the direction the Dolphins are going and said they are "on the right track." Miami spent a lot of money this offseason to boost its roster by signing free agents such as receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Dustin Keller, cornerback Brent Grimes and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who is a former teammate of McKinnie's in Baltimore. Yet, left tackle remains a big hole on Miami's roster.

The Dolphins must address the offensive tackle position sooner than later. All indications are pointing to Miami looking to the draft over veteran free agents like McKinnie, Eric Winston and others.
The local and national media has written tons about the Miami Dolphins this offseason. Not once did anyone mention upgrading the linebacker position as a primary need.

Apparently, Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby also was as surprised as anyone. Dansby was cut just hours after Miami agreed to terms with former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to a five-year, $35 million contract.

WMEN radio in Miami caught up with Dansby, who said Wednesday that he didn’t have any inkling he could lose his job with the Dolphins this offseason.

“No, not one day and not one indication,” Dansby said. “Not a hint. Not even anything. It was all ‘Let’s get ready for the next season. What do we have to do to improve?’

“It was a shock to me like it was a shock to everybody else.”

Dansby had a solid year in Miami, where he recorded a team-high 134 tackles and one sack. Miami’s front seven and solid linebacker play were primary reasons the Dolphins won seven games last season.

The Dolphins wanted to get younger and more athletic at linebacker. Dansby and Kevin Burnett are 30 or older. Miami cut both after signing the younger Ellerbe and former Oakland Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler.

What the Dolphins probably won’t admit publicly is Dansby was too high-maintenance at times. He always spoke his mind, even if it was against the Dolphins’ wishes.

For example, Dansby was vocal about Miami keeping Chad Johnson despite the receiver's off-the-field issues. In some ways, Dansby was not a Joe Philbin guy, and that carries a lot of weight with the Dolphins.

DAVIE, Fla. -- Mike Wallace did his homework.

Before the start of free agency, the coveted wide receiver studied film of offenses and quarterbacks who were potentially interested in his services. Wallace came away thinking the Miami Dolphins and second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill were a good fit.

"Definitely, I watched a lot of film," Wallace said Wednesday during his introductory news conference. "[Tannehill] has a lot of upside for sure over a lot of guys in the league, and I think we can build."

The Dolphins are hoping Wallace and Tannehill will be a dynamic combination for years to come. Wallace wasted no time developing a rapport with his new quarterback. Tannehill and Wallace went out to dinner Tuesday night, just hours after Wallace signed a reported five-year, $60 million contract.

Both players have yet to reach their prime and are expected to make each other better. Tannehill, 24, showed a lot of potential in his rookie year and can make all the throws. Wallace, 26, made one Pro Bowl already with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was a protégé of veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Wallace was able to simply blend in with Pittsburgh. But Wallace knows he has to take on more of a leadership role in Miami.

“It’s going to be different playing with a guy who’s going to be younger than me,” Wallace said. “Ben always treated me like his little brother. Actually being a big brother is going to be a little different. But I’m excited.”

There is a sense of excitement in Miami pertaining to the Dolphins. The team facility was abuzz Wednesday after Miami signed Wallace, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, and re-signed starting safety Chris Clemons and receiver Brian Hartline.

The bar will be raised to new heights in Miami. The New England Patriots are the longtime favorites in the division, but the Dolphins are looking dangerous.

“I definitely believe we are a playoff team,” Clemons said confidently on Wednesday.

Wallace said he had a "couple" of other options but believed Miami was the best fit. Wallace has 32 career touchdowns and is arguably the best deep threat in the NFL. He is the missing link to making Miami a more explosive offense and a contending team in the AFC East.

“I love everything that’s going on here,” Wallace said. “I think they’re very competitive and going in the right direction. It’s a young team -- the second youngest team in the league actually last year. I think we can do some good things.”

Dolphins cut LB Karlos Dansby

March, 12, 2013
Well, that didn’t take long.

Following the Miami Dolphins’ acquisition of former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, we immediately listed aging linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett as potential targets to be released.

The Dolphins quickly made their decision by reportedly releasing Dansby. An Ellerbe-for-Dansby swap certainly counts as an upgrade in Miami for several reasons.

For starters, Ellerbe (27) is four years younger and is entering his prime. Dansby (31) also was more expensive and played much of last year with a triceps injury. In the past, Dansby had weight issues and was high maintenance at times. He was productive but didn’t make enough game-changing plays to merit his big salary. Most in Miami felt Dansby was overpaid.

Ellerbe comes to Miami after helping lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl. Despite playing with star players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, many felt Ellerbe was Baltimore's best defensive player during the second half of the season and in the playoffs.

The Dolphins are getting a player on the way up (Ellerbe) and getting rid of an expensive player on the way down (Dansby). Miami also signed dynamic receiver Mike Wallace and re-signed starting safety Chris Clemons on Tuesday.

Miami’s front office has made a lot of mistakes in the past. But it is hard to argue with the tremendous job the Dolphins are doing on the first day of free agency.

It's no secret Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs doesn't like the New England Patriots. I stood in the tunnel of Gillette Stadium after January's AFC title game when Suggs yelled "have fun in the Pro Bowl" loud enough for everyone around the Patriots' locker room to hear.

But Suggs took his feelings a step further in a radio interview with WEEI in Boston on Wednesday. According to Suggs, "31 other teams hate the New England Patriots." That's a bold statement that would literally make New England the most hated team in the NFL.

Is Suggs correct in his assessment?


Are the Patriots the most hated team in the NFL?


Discuss (Total votes: 20,479)

It's hard to accurately gauge Suggs' statement. However, New England does have some degree of an "evil empire" feel around the NFL. The anti-Patriots sentiment stems mostly from jealousy of New England's success and the no-nonsense personality of coach Bill Belichick.

Belichick is well-respected for being arguably the best coach in the NFL. But there are some things that draw ire among his peers. Too often Belichick runs up the score on opponents and keeps his starters in longer than necessary during blowouts. Belichick infamously ran up the score during the 2007 season after the Spygate scandal broke. Many saw it as Belichick’s way of firing back at the rest of the league.

Belichick also is tough on the media. Belichick does things his way regardless of what others think. When Belichick didn't do a postgame interview with CBS after losing to Baltimore in the AFC title game, CBS NFL analyst and Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe ripped Belichick.

"Bill Belichick makes it real easy for you to root against the Patriots," Sharpe said. "You can’t be a poor sport all the time. You’re not going to win all the time, and he does this every time he loses. It is unacceptable."

There's also a sentiment that New England gets more than its share of calls due to things such as the "Tuck Rule" and the "Brady Rule," which Suggs mentioned on Wednesday.

“There was the whole invention of the Brady rule," Suggs explained. "Years before, I hit Drew Brees and I accidentally tore his knee up. No rule was made. Of all the quarterbacks in the NFL who got their knees blown out when they got hit -- Carson Palmer got his knee blown out -- but then one guy got hit and changed the whole rule for the NFL?"

The Patriots might be one of the most disliked teams in the NFL, but they're also one of the most successful. Suggs' comments should only add more motivation for New England to challenge Baltimore for the top spot in the AFC next season.
Earlier Monday we wrote how Tom Brady’s cap-friendly contract extension helps the New England Patriots become bigger players in free agency. Brady’s three-year extension saves New England $8 million in cap room this offseason.

In addition to Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker, here are four additional players the Patriots could have their eye on with the added cap room:

1. Safety Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens

Thoughts: The pending free agent and future Hall of Famer is coming off a Super Bowl title with Baltimore. The Patriots’ pass defense was horrendous last year and the ball-hawking Reed could be just the right fit. Baltimore has salary-cap issues of its own with free-agent quarterback Joe Flacco, who has tremendous leverage and is looking to become the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. The Ravens won’t have much money left after paying Flacco, making Reed a possibility.

2. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots

Thoughts: Yes, Vollmer is another in-house free agent. But anyone who does a good job protecting Brady is important to the Patriots. Former first-round pick Nate Solder has solidified the left side and re-signing Vollmer could solidify the right side. The only concern is Vollmer has suffered some injuries. Vollmer does a great job playing through pain, but that makes things a little murky when committing to a player long-term.

3. Cornerback Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons

Thoughts: The Patriots like value finds in free agency, and Grimes could be one of those players. Grimes was ascending to a top-level corner two years ago until a severe knee injury derailed his 2012 season. Grimes is rehabbing to get back to form, but the injury risk makes for a reasonable asking price. Grimes could be an affordable option if Aqib Talib’s asking price is too high.

4. Receiver Julian Edelman, Patriots

Thoughts: Edelman is another free agent New England would like to keep. He is dynamic on special teams and making strides as a slot receiver. He was viewed as the heir apparent to Welker before getting injured. The Patriots also could have their eye on West Virginia slot receiver Tavon Austin. But a fantastic combine most likely pushed Austin’s stock out of reach for New England at pick No. 29. Welker and Edelman in the slot next season may have to work.
The New England Patriots enter April's NFL draft tied for the fewest picks in the league with five. Three trades for veteran players Aqib Talib, Chad Johnson and Albert Haynesworth have all cost the Patriots selections in this year's draft.

With that in mind, should the Patriots trade out of the first round to acquire more picks? There is certainly a history of doing so under New England head coach Bill Belichick.

New England most recently traded its first-round picks in 2011 and 2009. The 2011 trade was to the New Orleans Saints for a 2012 first-rounder. The Patriots also traded their first-round pick twice in 2009 -- first with the Baltimore Ravens to move down three spots and then with the Green Bay Packers. New England moved its first and fifth-round picks to Green Bay for two second-round picks and a third rounder.

The Patriots love seeking value picks and are not afraid to move down the draft board. New England has the No. 29 overall pick, which could be of interest considering this year's thin quarterback class. Quarterback-needy teams not willing to draft the position in the top 10 could call New England to get back into the first round.

Another option for the Patriots to acquire more picks would be to trade backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The market for quarterbacks is very thin in the draft and free agency. Mallett has a big arm and was Tom Brady's understudy for the past two years. That could intrigue teams.

The Patriots don't have many draft picks, but they certainly have options to acquire more this year.
The strength of schedule ratings are out for 2013, and (surprise!) the New England Patriots no longer have the easiest schedule.

For two straight years, the Patriots had the easiest strength of schedule in the AFC East and one of the easiest in the NFL. In 2013, New England has the 14th-toughest schedule in the league.

Here are the complete strength of schedule ratings next season for the AFC East:
  • No. 8: Miami Dolphins (.520 winning percentage)
  • No. 14: New England Patriots (.508 winning percentage)
  • No. 19: New York Jets (.496 winning percentage)
  • No. 26: Buffalo Bills (.473 winning percentage)

What stands out most is that Miami has the eighth-toughest schedule next season. The Dolphins were 7-9 in 2012 and will be expected to make a jump in the second year under head coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. However, a brutal slate for Miami that includes games against the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and two against the Patriots could make it tough for the Dolphins to make a playoff push.

The Dolphins have plenty of resources via the draft and free agency this offseason to build a stronger team. They definitely will need it to survive a tough upcoming slate.