PERTINENT DATA: 12-4, earning an AFC wild card berth, beat Chiefs in Kansas City in wild card round, lost at rival Steelers in divisional round of playoffs; 16 to 1 odds to win Super Bowl XLVI.
BEST CASE SCENARIO (Neil): On one hand, the Baltimore Ravens were born of the greed and despicable shape shifting guile of Art Modell, which isn’t cool but on the other hand that pissed off the people of Cleveland and anything that makes those filthy animals weep and drown their children in the muck of the Cuyahoga River is okay with me. On a third hand (just imagine this is being written by some weird alien with 18 hands, 46 legs and, like, 12 dicks which, sadly, shouldn’t be too difficult to do) the Ravens seem like a thuggish bunch of animals, led by a dude who may or may not have been involved in a fatal stabbing in Miami, but on the fourth hand, we like thuggish dudes around these parts. So, what am I supposed to think about the Baltimore Ravens? Now, I know this isn’t supposed to be about my personal feelings but about the Ravens best and worst case scenarios as a football team, but to hell with all that, these damn previews descended into madness and vile mud-slinging long, long ago. If you’re here for punter formulas and efficiency charts then you’ve stumbled into the wrong saloon, friendo and you’ll be lucky if you get out of here without being deeply scarred in some way. My only advice to you is to avoid the hookers upstairs because they will either cut your balls off and rob you or leave you with a case of dick rot so severe that you’ll wish they had. But I’m getting off track, which . . . hell, is anybody reading this right now surprised by that? Anyway, with all that said, I don’t know whether to like the Ravens or hate them. I guess, in the end, I admire their thuggish Miami-bred style and their hardnosed disdain for rules and order. There are no Mannings here, just a collection of wild eyed semi-retarded hitmen whose only two goals in life are to break opposing runners in half and to own a purple Lamborghini that they can crash through the front window of a jewelry store at 3AM. I think that counts for something, you know? Exactly what, I have no idea. Look, I’m conflicted. I think the best case scenario for the Ravens is what it always is – a solid 12-4 type season built around a savage take no shit defense and an adequate offense culminating in a deep run into the playoffs and a blood filled war with the Steelers. Beyond that, don’t ask me what I think because honestly, I just don’t know.
WORST CASE SCENARIO (Raven): I have really always wanted to like the Ravens, because, you know, they have my name as their name and shit. But I've just never been able to do it, mostly because if my immense disdain for the state of Maryland, which is a strange place full of strange people. It's not even an outright shithole, although parts of Baltimore certainly would make you think twice about the sensibility of seeing the sun set. It's just Maryland people are... I don't know... just kind of sterile. They are the type of white people who love those goofy pretend horse races that places put on once a year where they don't actually horse races, so all the white people put on nice dresses and shirts and get rip-roaring drunk and take ecstasy and obliterate themselves in the hot sun for a whole day, and the local cops completely tolerate it, in fact, keep it safe by keeping the riff-raff out, so that these sheltered white people can party it up like degenerates but in a controlled environment. I worked with a girl like that one time, and she always wore thong panties and executron woman slacks, because she was a sales lady, so that was appropriate. But she always acted like she was all that, including talking about how she jumped up on stage to karaoke "Baby Got Back" or some shit one time, when in actuality, like a lot of women who tend to be in that sterile white people culture, she had the ass of a 7-year-old boy, all the beneficial fats jogged off into unsexiness that was slapped into a thong to pretend it's sexy from overabundance of scrawny ass cheek exposure. In fact, that girl was from Maryland, and she also lied about me liking her cookies one time, which were store bought cookie dough cookies, to my wife at a work function, which pissed my wife off because I never eat cookies at home (this is not a euphemism for cunninlingus, I assure you), but I just had to tell my wife, like so many men have had to tell their wives in similar potentially dramatic situations, "That bitch crazy." Anyways, that type of person is really what Maryland has always seemed like to me, and I have honestly never met anyone from Maryland who has dispelled that as my intuitive feeling about the state. Thus, I have a hard time rooting for a team from Maryland, because even their creepy little bird logo and state flag is tinged with that knowledge. And the players seem to vibrate with it as well. It's weird how a place can pollute you like that, but environmental pollution is a very real thing, not just for like mercury in rivers and all, but for electrosmog and psychic pollution in our very own neural make-ups. You should remember that. I am a scientist, I know these things to be factual.
PLAYER TO PULL FOR (Neil): You would think I’d pick Ray Lewis here but you’d be wrong. Here’s what I wrote about Ray Lewis when I was explaining his exclusion from the All-ACLB team a few months back or whenever the fuck I wrote it – well shit, this is embarrassing, I was sure I wrote something about Ray Lewis back then but apparently I did not. Does it surprise you that sometimes these things exist only in my mind? Goddammit, I swear I wrote it but I can’t find it anywhere. Help! What is going on? Where am I? Anyway, Ray Lewis seems kind of fraudulent to me. Not all the way fraudulent but just kind of like the sort of dude who likes to scream a lot because he thinks it makes him sound like a warrior and who probably never stabbed anyone but just stood around and watched his boys do that shit all wide-eyed and then ran off, hyperventilating and muttering “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck” under his breath the whole time. I’m not saying any of that is right but Ray Lewis wants you to think he’s capable of stabbing a dude and therein lies the issue. So, anyway, it’s not Ray Lewis even though I don’t really have a huge problem with him or anything. It’s Ed Reed you should root for. And here’s why: Ed Reed is such an awesome player that I picked him for the All-ACLB Team regardless of whether he was a solid dude or not. Frankly I didn’t know. But then Raven picked up my slack and wrote the following:
“But first let us speak further of Ed Reed. There is no other football player in the NFL who looks more like he is about five years into a 20 year plan to look like one of Fred Sanford's best friends than Ed Reed. He has the homeless man beard, the bug eyed look that is simply the result of being such a dark-skinned dude with beautiful almost twinkling bright eyes. He seems like the chillest dude on earth, just by looking at him. Seriously, there was always the one homeless dude who you knew was smoking crack with your dollar donation to his cause, but he just seemed so goddamned chill, you couldn't resist. And he'd recognize you, and call out, "Hey Potna, what's goin' on today?" and you would feel good about this crazy man calling you "partner" in mangled but happy speech. That's Ed Reed in years, except he is a successful millionaire dude instead, yet still looks like that.
Why is he successful? Because there is no better ballhawk in the NFL. Early on, in the shadow of Ray Lewis, Reed was a headcracker, like any great safety. But he has transitioned into the one guy on an NFL field defensively who can turn a game around. This is probably partially due to his early times in Baltimore where the defense had to win games, so they might as well throw six up on the board from time to time to help their own cause. But you put that on the field with an offense that is actually competent beyond Brian Billick's ego strut, and what you have a formidable motherfucker.
On top of all this, as he was doing just these very things last season, he was doing it under the duress of his brother having run from the cops and disappeared/drowned in the Mississippi River. Like it's one thing to have tragedy strike where someone dies suddenly, but to have your little bro running from the sound of the beast, take a desperate dive into the biggest river in America, and then not show back up, that's some heavy fucking shit. And yet Ed Reed was there for every game, still making huge plays, still showing mad heart, no matter how heavy it was, and fucking shit up.”
Well there you have it.
PLAYER TO HATE MOST (Raven): I have always thought it would be neat if players had to play for the pro team near their college. One time, I think with Madden 07, I even started re-assigning the rosters to teams where pro teams got the players from colleges closest to them, or at least had dibs on that, but then it got complicated with later rounds or lower players or who got a player who was not deemed good enough at a stocked position, and how to go about the next year's draft and all. It just got really complicated, so I stopped that scientific nerd project. The Miami Dolphins offense was crazy though, and Ladainian Tomlinson played for the Cowboys, which made a lot of sense to me psychically. I mention all this because of Joe Flacco being the star QB for the Ravens. He played college ball in Delaware, which is right there. For those of you who have never been there, which is probably most of you, at least other than the interstate headed north or south, Delaware is a weird fucking place. It has oceanfront, but you never hear about anybody being like, "Oh shit man, we got a cottage rented down in Delaware for vacation. I can't FUCKING WAIT!" And there's a reason for this. Now let me preface this by saying I love Delaware, and have had some good sordid times there. But I'm a special breed of man. Delaware, for all intents and purposes, is one long skinny truck stop of a state, and as weird and creepy but neat as a truck stop is. Sure, you can find some wacky shit and get yourself a cup of coffee injected with liquid adrenaline for the long haul, and you might have a fun weekend in a rundown motel drinking 4-Lokos and tomato juice with some girl you met at the D.C. Greyhound station the day before, leaving glow-in-the-black light stains on the sheets and carpet for Dateline to find later. But you don't want to live in Delaware, or be from Delaware. It's where people who can't afford Pennsylvania or New Jersey go to live. It's where hookers go to get murdered. It's a sad but simple place. Basically it's like Charles Bukowski was made city planner for an entire state. Because of this, and knowing Joe Flacco grew up in Delaware, played college ball at a Football Championship Subcompact college, and is proud of all that, I have to question Joe Flacco's sensibilities as a human being. I know he is hyped up as the equal to Matt Ryan in Atlanta, and they are often billed as two future superstar QBs. But it also feels like the league trying to force a Manning/Brady rivalry of greatness down my throat that isn't really justified, especially for Flacco. So because of all this questionable history, and the fact that you compound this with him living in Maryland, the land of sheltered and sterile white people like I already mentioned, it's just not a good combo. This does not mean he's outright crazy awesome like Roethlisberger, or even constantly far above mediocre like Matt Hasselbeck. He just is whatever, you know.
BEST NAME ON TEAM: Sergio Kindle.
IN A PERFECT WORLD (Neil): Look, this project has turned sneaky on me. It started as sort of an innocent, fairly straightforward, albeit occasionally weird preview and now I’m ranting and raving for 2,000 words about every single team. By the time this thing is done it’s going to rival the All-ACLB team in size and scope and Raven and I will have done it in a lot less time. Like, I bet I end up writing 40-50,000 words about all of these teams in the span of less than a month. In the book world that’s a novella. Shit, add Raven’s parts to mine and we’re going to end up writing a fucking novel’s worth of words. What does this have to do with the perfect world of the Ravens? I don’t fucking know. Leave me alone. All I know is that both Raven and I have spiraled into madness here. Okay fine, in a perfect world, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed burst into Sheriff Goodell’s office wearing ski masks and force him to piss his pants. I figure there’s at least a 5% chance of that actually happening which means that a perfect world is attainable. Don’t listen to the cynics. Never give up. We’re all about inspiration here at Armchair Linebacker. You’re welcome, America. You’re welcome.
PROGNOSIS (Raven): The Ravens are a really good team constantly barely outshone by division enemies the Steelers. The Ravens will go 12-4, which will be enough to barely win the AFC North, but they'll lose early in the playoffs, perhaps to those very Steelers, at home. That's what the mushroom river sticks told me, but that seems awful fucking specific, so I'm not tied to the outright exit it told me. But they will go 12-4 and win the division.