Scouting Report: Baltimore Ravens

According to most media outlets, the consensus top three teams in the NFL are the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers. But don't forget, the Chargers didn't clinch home-field advantage until week 17 last season because the Baltimore Ravens were right on their heels. Here is a look reigning AFC North Champions and the threat they pose to the Chargers.

The one headline-stealing acquisition the Baltimore Ravens made this offseason was trading two third-round picks and a seventh-rounder to the Buffalo Bills for running back Willis McGahee. The Ravens utilize a run-first offense, and McGahee has the skills to excel despite the eight-man fronts he is sure to face.

Landing McGahee was a saving grace from a public relations perspective, as the team was taking ample criticism for allowing Adalius Thomas to defect to the conference rival New England Patriots. The versatile Thomas finished last season with 83 tackles, 11 sacks and an interception. He will be replaced by Jarrett Johnson, a significant downgrade.

The real story with the Ravens isn't who was brought in or let go, rather the players trying to squeeze one more year of productivity out of the backend of their careers. Steve McNair, 34, and Ray Lewis, 32, are the unchallenged leaders on their respective sides of the ball and must continue to play well for the Ravens to make the playoffs. The same goes for wide receiver Derrick Mason, 33, who functions as McNair's safety valve.

So should Chargers fans fret when the Ravens come to town in week 12? In a word: yes. That is not to imply that the Ravens are better than the Chargers, as no team can make that claim and mean it. But Baltimore still boasts and aggressive and stifling defense, and an offense that should be appreciably more potent.

The Ravens beat the Chargers in Baltimore last season, 16-13. At that point, Philip Rivers was still trying to carve up defenses with his Playskool scissors. But just as the Chargers' offense took off after that game, the Ravens offense is primed to do the same.

The development of young receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, combined with the addition of the explosive McGahee, should make McNair's job a lot easier. Additionally, the blocking will be improved with the draft-day additions of guard Ben Grubbs and road-grading fullback LéRon McClain.

If the Ravens and Chargers play another tight game, special teams might be the deciding factor. That would be bad news for the Chargers, as the Ravens have two explosive kicks returners -- B.J. Sams and rookie Yamon Figurs -- and a clutch kicker in Matt Stover.

Are the Ravens beatable? Of course they are. In fact, the Ravens are more beatable than the Chargers. However, all of San Diego abuzz over a pending rematch with the Patriots and a home game against the defending champion Colts, it is foolish to look past the boys from Baltimore. The Ravens are just as dangerous as any team in the AFC.

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