Ryan Clady’s Injury Solidify the Baltimore Ravens as AFC Favorites


Today, the official twitter account of the Denver Broncos announced that All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady tore his ACL in practice yesterday, which makes him likely to miss the entire 2015-2016 season.

In my opinion, this unfortunate injury can now lead to many experts and fans to see the Baltimore Ravens as the AFC favorites.

The Broncos seem to be running out of more time each year, and only has one returning offensive lineman with Ryan Clady going down. They lost Julius Thomas to the Jaguars in free agency, and Peyton Manning, even though he was dealing with an injury, played horrific in the AFC Divisional Playoff game versus the Indianapolis Colts. Last season, the Broncos made Super Bowl or bust type signings, which featured DeMarcus Ware, who is now 32 years old, and T.J. Ward. Peyton Manning in his age needs a stable offensive line to be most effective. If you have watched any Broncos games the past two to three years, Manning usually just falls to the ground instead of taking a hit. In their run to the Super Bowl two years ago, the offensive line was fantastic and a strength of the team. Now, it looks to be their biggest weakness. Their projected starting center is Gino Gradkowski, and Ravens fans saw how bad the Gradkowski experiment went. Gradkowski ranked last in starting centers on Pro Football Focus when he started for the Ravens two years ago. 

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Last season, the Broncos relied heavily on the running game in the later part of the season. With this offensive line, they will most likely not be able to do so, which will put even more pressure on Peyton Manning. The team that beat the Broncos in the AFC Divisional Playoff game will look to try to make it to a second consecutive AFC Championship game.

The Indianapolis Colts have always seemed to be a game away from gaining national respect as a top AFC team. Andrew Luck is a top-five quarterback in the NFL without question, in my opinion. If the Colts can establish a running game with their newly signed running back Frank Gore, they can have a top-three offense in the NFL. I think the Colts are a top AFC team without question. I am not completely sold on the veteran signings of Andre Johnson and Gore, like many others. Johnson has taken many steps back and has never had a a double digit touchdown season. Gore has aged considerably because of the high volume of carries he has received with the San Francisco 49ers. I would argue Carlos Hyde was the more effective back in the 49ers offense last season. The Colts will have a very explosive offense though, with emerging superstar T.Y. Hilton, young stud Donte Moncrief, along with veteran Johnson and new first-round pick Phillip Dorsett. Their front seven is still their biggest weakness to me, and that may deter them from reaching the Super Bowl this year. Chuck Pagano is a great coach, but always seems to get out coached by John Harbaugh and Bill Belichick in big games.

Now to discuss the defending Super Bowl champions. There has been much to say about the Deflate Gate situation, that I will leave to decide for yourselves. The facts are that Tom Brady will be suspended for at least two to four games depending on how his appeal goes. They play the Steelers, Bills, Jaguars and Cowboys in those first four games. Without Tom Brady in at least those first two games, I could definitely see the Patriots starting out 0-2.  

The Patriots lost their three top cornerbacks in the offseason. Darrelle Revis went back to his former team, the Jets, Brandon Browner went South to the New Orleans Saints and Kyle Arrington is now as you all know a Baltimore Raven. They resigned talented free safety Devin McCourty, which now looks like a huge signing. The Patriots did a nice job in the draft, getting one of the best value picks in Malcolm Brown who looks to replace long time Patriot Vince Wilfork, who is now a Houston Texan. However, even with the negatives in the secondary and the loss of Shane Vereen on offense among others, you can never count out Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. I still believe the greatest threat to the Ravens in the AFC is the New England Patriots, not the Colts or the Broncos.

Now to make the case why the Ravens should/could be considered AFC favorites. Despite what many people say, Joe Flacco continues to improve as a quarterback and it is to tough to find a better quarterback than him in the playoffs. The Ravens have a top-five offensive line, and boast the best guard tandem in Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, both top-five guards according to PFF last season. The weakest point on the team is offensive weapons, so they went and drafted a wide receiver and a tight end in the first two rounds.

They did lose Haloti Ngata in free agency via trade to the Detroit Lions, but they have very solid defensive tackle depth. Brandon Williams is now in his third season and at 335 pounds, he is one of the best run stoppers in the NFL. Young stud Timmy Jernigan will look to replace Ngata, and he showed that he has the talent to do so when Ngata was out for four games on a suspension. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs are considered one of the best, if not the best, pass-rush duo in the NFL. The secondary in what use to be considered a weakness can now be considered strength with a healthy Jimmy Smith, a top-five cornerback when healthy, along with Lardarius Webb and newly signed Arrington. Will Hill who played fantastic in eight games with the Ravens will now look to prove his worth in a full sixteen game slate, with newly signed Kendrick Lewis beside him at free safety.

The Ravens will have a learning curve with the young players and talent in the offensive weapons front. However, every team discussed has a weakness and the Ravens seem to have less of a weakness compared to the other top AFC teams, which is why I believe they can be considered the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Next: Cassius Vaughn Signed, Update on Day Two of Ravens OTAs

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