When you mix the first Ravens preseason game with anxious, excited, over-the-top Ravens fans and alcoholic beverages, wagers about the upcoming season will be made. I may or may not be speaking from experience here, but I know it happens. For the past four years, a popular conversation piece around Baltimore, mostly bantered back and forth within bar walls, has been about Joe Flacco’s on-the-field performance. There are both Flacco supporters and Flacco haters out there, but despite which side you’re on, the arguments for both are nothing short of interesting.

One of those interesting discussions arose during last Thursday night’s game between the Ravens and Eagles.  The Flacco debate began and the overly confident predictions followed.  To make a long, expletive story short, a wager was made about how Flacco’s statistics last season will compare to that of this season’s.  The wager, which was brought on by the “uncertain” Flacco fan, consisted of the following stipulations – Flacco would have lower numbers this season in two of the following three statistical categories (yards, completions and passing touchdowns) than he did last season.  The “confident” Flacco fan quickly complied, the two shook hands and the deal was sealed.

This got me thinking about how a couple other Ravens’ offensive stars will fare this season as opposed to last season.  Since most of the offensive starters were released, let’s look at last year’s numbers for Flacco, Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin and see if they will surpass or fall short of their performances (stats do not include postseason).

Joe Flacco – 306 completions, 3,622 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

Flacco lost a lot this offseason including two of his main targets in Derrick Mason and Todd Heap (101 combined receptions) along with a couple capable offensive linemen in Chris Chester and Jared Gaither.  But he gained an All-Pro fullback in Vonta Leach and a proven receiver in Lee Evans.  So, as you can tell, this one is a bit tough to gauge. Flacco has progressed every season since he came into the league, but I just have a feeling he won’t be able to surpass his numbers from last season for a few different reasons.

Most of the premise behind this hunch stems from the fact I think the Ravens are going to be much more committed to the run this season.  They kind of got away from their bread and butter (the running game) last season, and it hurt them in crucial games and at crucial situations.  Flacco will also be working with a lot of different, and young, receivers this season.  The chemistry is going to take a bit of getting used to.  The lack of training camp will also hurt his numbers, especially in the beginning of the season.  In addition, at any point in the season more than half of the starting offensive line could be rookies.  I think there’s a possibility he matches last year’s numbers, but I just can’t see him improving upon them.  So, the uncertain Flacco fan has my support.

Ray Rice – 307 carries, 1,220 yards, 5 touchdowns

Unlike Flacco, I see Rice getting better in at least two if not all three of these categories, most notably touchdowns.  Five touchdowns for a starting running back of Rice’s caliber is an extremely low number.  And like I said before, I think the Ravens are going to run the ball much more than last season.  Willis McGahee took a lot of red zone carries from Rice when he was here, too, which translated into low touchdown numbers for Rice.  That will most certainly change this season even with the addition of veteran Ricky Williams.

Rice won’t have any shortage of yards, either.  He only averaged about 76 yards per game last season and should be able to build on that this season, especially running behind a talent like Leach.   So, with the prediction of an added emphasis on the running game comes more carries for Rice, which he can most certainly handle.  He is quite the workhorse and his numbers will reflect that this season.

Anquan Boldin – 64 receptions, 837 yards, 7 touchdowns

I imagine that I mimic the thoughts of most Ravens’ fans by saying Boldin didn’t perform quite as well as he was expected to last season.  His 64 receptions and 837 yards were by far the lowest of his career, especially considering he played in all 16 games.  He surpassed these modest numbers even when he only appeared in 12 games in each of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with Arizona.  So, it makes sense to say that I think he will have better numbers this season.  Flacco needs Boldin to be a bigger part of the passing game and I think he will, especially with the departure of Mason and Heap.  Flacco should have much more confidence throwing to Boldin simply because they already have a season of working together under their belt.  Needless to say, he should make Ravens’ fans much happier than he did in his first season with the team.

Submitted by Steve Giles