Why the Baltimore Ravens Are the Best Team in the AFC North
Despite the ongoing saga with Ray Rice, the Ravens have tried to turn the corner as a team and focus on football. It seems to be working, as the Ravens are sitting on top of the AFC North thanks to the Bengals’ three-game winless streak. Should the Ravens remain the favorite to win the division?
Quarterback Joe Flacco has done his part the past two weeks, contributing 42.47 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) for a total of 63.84 Passing Net Expected Points on the season. Flacco currently sits as the sixth-best quarterback according to our metrics, ahead of Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, to name a few. And Flacco has been super efficient so far this season too, contributing 0.25 points per drop back, also the sixth-best mark in the league.
How has the passing game been so impressive? Look no further than the Smiths.
When Steve Smith Sr. was signed to the Ravens, he was brought in to be an aid to Torrey Smith. But the season didn't start that way. Instead, Smitty has had a career resurgence and is putting up advanced numbers that compare to his 2005 campaign. Before Week 5, Smith was on pace for slightly over 100 Target NEP - the number of points added by a player on all targets - something only he and two other receivers have done since 2000. He's off that pace now, but his current 33.98 Target NEP is still seventh-best among all receivers.
When you only factor in catches, Smith's Reception NEP of 52.07 is also seventh best. Steve Smith has proven to be one of the best receivers this year, despite being 35.
On the other side of the field, teammate Torrey Smith has been inconsistent all season. Through Week 5, Torrey had a negative Target NEP, performing below expectation and hurting his team. Now his Target NEP is on the rise, as he’s contributed 15.89 points over the last two weeks.
Torrey’s Target NEP is still barely in the top 50 of all receivers this year thanks to the slow start, but now that the targets are being evenly distributed between both Smiths, he's back to the receiver we all expected. Entering Week 8, Torrey has contributed 33.51 Reception NEP, 24th-best among all receivers.
With Flacco improving by the week, the Ravens’ offense has seen quite the jump as well. Baltimore's the most efficient offense in their division, adding twice as many points per play as the Bengals offensively when adjusting for strength of schedule.
|Team||Adj. NEP per Play||Adj. Passing NEP per Play||Adj. Rushing NEP per Play|
The Ravens have the edge in the passing game, throwing for 0.21 Adjusted (for strength of schedule) Passing NEP per play. The running game hasn't been as strong, but considering the team was worst in the league at toting the rock a season ago, it's a positive sign to see them running above expectation with third-string backs. Though the running game isn't as good as Pittsburgh's or Cincinnati's, it's still the 10th-best rushing unit in the league after adjusting for strength of schedule.
With the offense humming along, can the defense keep up as well?
Defense Made for the AFC North
Teams in the AFC North are typically known for their smash-mouth style of play, and the Ravens have backed this up according to our metrics.
|Team||Adj. Def. NEP||Adj. Def. Passing NEP||Adj Def. Rushing NEP|
The Ravens' defense towers above every other team in the division currently, allowing 8.34 fewer points than an average defense would in their situation according to our NEP metrics. The Ravens' fourth-best overall defense is largely due to their run-stopping ability, which is eighth-best in the league, allowing 15.31 points fewer than an average rush defense.
The only aspect of the Ravens' defense that is second-best in the division is the pass defense, as the Bengals are playing very well according to our metrics. Both the Bengals and Ravens have a top-10 pass defenses in the league.
Right now, the Ravens have control of the division and are a top-10 team in all aspects of the game. The Ravens rank second in our power rankings with a 74.6% chance to win their division and an 85.2% chance to make the playoffs. The Ravens control their own destiny right now, and until the Bengals can find a better defense, the division is all Baltimore's.