Sports media favor the Ravens to repeat as division champs

As NFL prediction season gets under way (if it hasn’t already), at least four national football publications are picking the Ravens as early favorites to repeat as AFC North champions.

In their annual preseason previews, Lindy’s, Athlon Sports, Street & Smith’s and Pro Football Weekly say they expect the Ravens to continue their dominance to defend their division title and return to the playoffs in 2007.  Here’s their rationale:

Lindy’s

They predict that the Ravens will win the Super Bowl, saying that their defense remains formidable despite the loss of linebacker Adalius Thomas, who signed with the New England Patriots as a free agent.  They also point to the acquisition of former Buffalo Bills running back Willis McGahee as one reason that the Ravens should take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy this year.  The magazine says it expects the Ravens to score more with McGahee running behind a proven line. Agreed, except for winning the Super Bowl.

Athlon Sports

Athlon also points to the addition of McGahee to a team that was already considered the class of the division as a big reason that the Ravens should repeat in the North.  McGahee is expected to bring more versatility to the Ravens’ offense, as opposed to the one-dimensional power running game the team used with Jamal Lewis at tailback.  All well and good, but as the defense goes, so do the Ravens.

Street & Smith’s

They like the McGahee trade and the fact that quarterback Steve McNair has a year under his belt in Baltimore.  McNair joined the Ravens in June 2006 and participated in the team’s offseason workout program for the first time this year.

Pro Football Weekly

They noted the balance the Ravens showed on both sides of the ball last year and expect a similar outcome this year, particularly with head coach Brian Billick continuing to call the plays.  Billick took over play-calling duties in midseason last year.

Personally, I agree that the Ravens will win the AFC North once again.  But I think that a lot will depend on McNair, especially with his health.  Consider that his backup is Kyle Boller and there should be at least some minor concern.  The running game is obviously upgraded, but the WR’s aren’t exactly world-beaters.  But they at least have TE Todd Heap to bail’em out.  The defense should be their usual selves as htere’s no major flaws.  I expect the Ravens to win 11 games this year with a second-round exit from the playoffs.

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