The Week 17 matchup between Cincinnati and Baltimore, unfortunately, is pretty meaningless. Sure, there are some interesting storylines, such as the potential impending retirement of certain players and the possibility that this is the last time we’ll see certain players don the orange and black — specifically, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth, Brandon LaFell and Rex Burkhead. Hopefully that’s not the case, but it’s a possibility nonetheless. With this game not meaning much, we spoke with Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown to get an inside scoop on what went right and wrong for this year’s Ravens team and what to expect in the future.
Connor Howe: Bummer of a season for both the Bengals and the Ravens, who both just couldn't scrape out enough wins to make a playoff run — Baltimore, who actually had a chance late in the season, more so than Cincinnati. A lot went right for John Harbaugh's team this year, but what went wrong?
Kyle Barber: An ugly second quarter is the big reason for the Ravens failures. After starting off with three straight victories, the Ravens found themselves taking four straight losses. Each one a combination of coaching failures, bad injuries and overall a lack of execution on both sides of the football. This team is allergic to striking the fatal blow, keeping teams in it late. They hang around, and also, let other teams hang around. It's a problem the Ravens haven't overcome.
CH: What do the Ravens have to look forward to in the future, beyond this upcoming game?
KB: The youth movement. The 2016 rookie class is something to believe in; two good/great lineman with Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis. Kenneth Dixon proved in primetime against Pittsburgh just how talented he is, while Tavon Young is a bright spot in the Ravens secondary. The Ravens are a smart franchise and with Ozzie Newsome drafting, Baltimore may come out stronger in 2017.
CH: What will be the Ravens' biggest needs in the upcoming offseason, and what would be your ideal combination of free agent acquisitions and/or Draft picks?
KB: I don't have the answer for combination of FA's and picks, but I know the Ravens need to somehow acquire pass rushers and playmakers. The offense lacks a go-to man. No A.J. Green or Antonio Brown to deliver the ball to. No five-star tailback to make the play. They need to find a blue-chip pass catcher to be effective. On the defense, Baltimore needs corners and pass rushers. Not a single sack was registered against Pittsburgh, a do-or-die game. You can't win when the oppositions quarterback stands upright.
CH: You're responsible for handing out awards: Team MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and Biggest Surprise of the Year. Who gets which award, and why?
KB: Team MVP goes to Eric Weddle. The man brought together the defense in ways we've not seen since Ed Reed's departure. He was a leader and playmaker.
Offensive Player of the Year goes to Steve Smith Sr. The man came off an Achilles tear at 37 and will post around 800 yards. I don't know of any players capable of such a feat.
Defensive Player of the Year goes to Weddle. As I mentioned earlier, this man helped create the singular players of the secondary into a cohesive unit. They played as one. He also played brilliantly.
Offensive Rookie of the Year goes to Ronnie Stanley. The left tackle helped provide Joe Flacco security on the blindside. It was a worry when the Ravens and Eugene Monroe split, but the young stud proved his sixth overall status.
Defensive Rookie of the Year goes to Tavon Young, who will be a great cornerback for years to come. He has no business playing on the outside, yet out-jumped some six foot plus receivers on fade routes and won. He's only going to get better when the Ravens have him sliding inside on nickel coverage in the future.
Comeback Player of the Year goes to Smith Sr. Already mentioned above, Achilles tear at 37. How he's playing is unfathomable.
Biggest Surprise of the Year goes to Zachary Orr. I typed about three names until I realized it was without question, Orr. Michael Pierce barely made the roster and is producing, and Terrance West — picked up off waivers — had a big season, but this undrafted free agent linebacker followed in the footsteps of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe. He became a starting Ravens linebacker that can play. Leading the team in tackles (133) and also intercepting three passes, this man took the giant leap to playing NFL-caliber football. The Ravens went out and drafted a linebacker in the second round to play opposite of C.J. Mosley and Orr took it from him. Very happy with this outcome.
CH: Will the Ravens be a playoff team in 2017?
KB: I always believe the Ravens will be a playoff team. They're consistently hovering around a Wild Card. They've missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons post-Super Bowl, but next season, the Ravens will get back on track.
CH: And finally, the only question that has to do with the upcoming matchup — who wins on Sunday, and what's the score?
KB: I believe the Ravens take the W. The Ravens want to send Smitty (Steven Smith Sr.) off on a win, and Terrell Suggs spoke against taking intentional losses. Also, Green, Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert all absent help the Ravens.
I'm not a score prediction guy, but I'll throw one out. 24-17 Ravens. Two Smith Sr. touchdowns send him off into retirement. Meanwhile, the Ravens give up two late scores to keep it unnecessarily close in the end.