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Know thy Enemy: Baltimore Ravens - Sunday, October 7

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Today we look at a team the 49ers face in Week 5; a team that has always intrigued me, the Baltimore Ravens.  Even though he may have the biggest ego in the world, Brian Billick is quite the character.  If you want to get a good look at the man, check out Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL.

The Ravens are represented at SB Nation by Baltimore Beatdown, a blog written by Black Raven for the past month.  The NFL side of the network is almost complete as we are only waiting on blogs for the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals.  If you happen to know of a Chargers and/or Cardinals blogger, let me know so we can get them covered.

And so back to the Ravens.  After a pair of mediocre/bad years, Baltimore bounced back big time, finishing 13-3 before losing to the eventual champion Colts in the divisional championship round.  The quarterback position was temporarily relieved by Steve McNair, who turned 34 this offseason.  The Ravens defense was back to its superior form leading the league in fewest points allowed, DVOA and weighted defense, and the team seemed to get the last good year out of Jamal Lewis (I think he's running on fumes, personally).

The Ravens had quite a few losses that will impact them in the upcoming campaign.  They saw Adalius Thomas head north to the Patriots, Jamal Lewis to their old stomping grounds in Cleveland and of course, Aubrayo Franklin coming out west to San Francisco.  While Lewis is approaching the end of his career, Thomas is a stud and Franklin is hopefully a rising talent in the league (we certainly hope).

The Ravens certainly made some noise to cover up for some of their losses.  The trade for Willis McGahee did cost the Ravens a pair of 3rd rounders and a 7th rounder.  However, they were able to improve themselves at a position in which they finished 24th in DVOA and their #1 back was 40th in DPAR among all running backs with 75+ carries.  So needless to say, improve was much needed.

The draft produced some interesting options for the Ravens.  Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda are both guys who could be the future of the Ravens offensive line.  Yanda will benefit as much as anybody playing behind all-world OT Jonathan Ogden.  Additionally, the team picked up a pair of outside linebackers, a position where they could definitely use future depth.  My favorite pick of was Troy Smith in the 5th round.  Since 2000, the Ravens have selected both Chris Redman and Kyle Boller as potential QBs of the future.  While I doubt Troy Smith is the answer, it will be fun to see what he does at the next level.

2007 Questions & Answers
The Ravens have added some young talent as the window closes on their older talent.  The questions exist for many of the older guys.  How many more years are there in Steve McNair's body?  Will somebody emerge as the QB of the future?

I've been a fan of McNair's since Alcorn State and while I don't think he has much time left, I think the Ravens can expect another solid season from him.  McGahee should be able to bounce back behind the horses in the Baltimore offensive line.  I think Baltimore is living on borrowed time, but I think they're definitely a playoff team in 2007.

@ 49ers
While the Ravens may make the playoffs, I think the 49ers can definitely win this game in what would probably be a tight defensive battle.  This is a game built for two generations of Hurricane running backs to dominate.  Gore vs. McGahee will definitely be an intriguing battle considering the Ravens defense is always solid to great and the 49ers have rebuilt their own defense.  I think this is the kind of game that just requires some solid in-game management from Alex Smith, and not necessarily a spectacular performance.  I'll go with 49ers 20 - Ravens 17, right down to the wire as the 49ers head into the bye week.