The Deadspin 2020 NFL Previews, AFC North: Young Guns and Scumbag Ben


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Covid Response: Only two players wound up opting out for the Ravens, offensive tackle Andre Smith and returner De’Anthony Thomas. Probably because everyone else wants to see what Lamar will do this season.

Outside The Lines: The Earl Thomas mess seems like it was a lifetime ago in the hellscape that is 202o, but turns out it was only in May. Of course, I’m talking about the firstEarl Thomas mess that we knew about, meaning the one that involved a gun and him being found in bed with his brother and at least two women, neither of whom was his wife (no kink-shaming!). After an on-field altercation in training camp, the Ravens cut ties with the Pro Bowl safety for good. Thomas is still a free agent. Imagine how much of a jerk you’d have to be to be a Pro Bowler and have your team cut ties with you and then not even the Cowboys pick you up.

Oh, he’s here now?: If there was one weakness in Baltimore last season, it was the inside pass rush. Enter D-lineman Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. The Ravens also had an exemplary draft, adding rookie J.K. Dobbins to the running game on the offensive side of the ball. They also added veteran offensive lineman D.J. Fluker to help shore up their front.

Where’d he go?: Uh, obviously Thomas is … not here any longer … for the reasons outlined above. Leaving a big hole on the offensive line is Pro Bowler Marshall Yanda, who retired after 13 seasons with the team.

Fans in the stands: Though the Ravens initially wanted to allow 14,000 fans into M&T Bank Stadium for the home opener, they’ve shelved the plan for now and will not host fans for “at least the initial part” of the 2020 season.

What to expect: For a team starting a wide receiver at quarterback, ahem, the Ravens did pretty well in 2019 (perhaps someday I will let that go, Bill Polian, but today is not that day). Look, it’s going to be really tough for Jackson to do what he did in 2019, namely rushing for over 1,200 yards and surprising the hell out of everyone. There’s also the fear that, now that the Titans showed everyone else how to beat Baltimore, every other team in the league will use the same playbook to neutralize Jackson. Yes, everyone is going to see Jackson coming this year. Everyone is going to be gunning for him. But, based on what we saw last year, Jackson is smart enough and talented enough to keep defenses on their toes.

And don’t forget, stopping Jackson is one thing. Scoring on the Ravens is something else entirely. Heading into the season, The Athletic’sSheil Kapadia has Baltimore’s defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL. With stars like lineman Calais Campbell and linebacker Matt Judon, and emerging playmakers like cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens have one of the deepest defenses in the NFL, even without Thomas. Look for the Ravens to be playing deep into January of 2021 at the very least.

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