Injuries are an ever-ready excuse in the NFL for when teams underperform.
But in the case of the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, they were impossible to ignore. The Ravens ended last season with a hard-to-believe 20 players on injured reserve. Included on that list was franchise quarterback Joe Flacco, star pass rusher Terrell Suggs and running back Justin Forsett.
A 1-6 start submarined to a massively disappointing 5-11 finish. Of those 11 losses, nine of them were by single digits.
An offseason to get healthy has the Ravens feeling like they can return to their usual status as playoff contenders in the AFC.
With the Bills and Ravens scheduled to meet in the season opener Sept. 11, The Buffalo News kicks off its preview of Buffalo’s opponents in 2016 with a closer look at Baltimore’s offseason:
Additions: S Eric Weddle (previously with the San Diego Chargers), WR Mike Wallace (Minnesota Vikings), TE Benjamin Watson (New Orleans Saints), CB Jerraud Powers (Arizona Cardinals).
Analysis: Weddle is out to prove he's still one of the best defensive backs in the league after a trying 2015 with San Diego. He'll immediately take over as one of the Ravens' leaders. The Ravens allowed 30 passing touchdowns and intercepted a league-worst six passes last season. ... Wallace should be a good deep target for Flacco. ... Watson had a great 2015 season (74 catches, 825 yards, six touchdowns), but shouldn't be counted on to duplicate those numbers.
Subtractions: OT Eugene Monroe, OG Kelechi Osemele (signed with Oakland Raiders), QB Matt Schlub (Atlanta Falcons), LB Courtney Upshaw (Atlanta Falcons), LB Daryl Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
Analysis: It's been speculated that Monroe was released at least in part due to his outspoken advocacy for the use of medical marijuana. ... Losing Osemele is a huge blow to the offensive line. He has developed into one of the best guards in the league. ... Schaub played just two games last season before getting hurt. ... Upshaw was never much of a pass rusher, but was a reliable veteran.
Draft report: Notre Dame OT Ronnie Stanley (first round), Boise State LB Kamalei Correa (second round), Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon (fourth round).
Analysis: Stanley, the Notre Dame product, will replace Monroe as the starting left tackle. ... The Ravens are expected to use Correa inside and outside. ... Dixon is part of a crowded backfield that includes starter Justin Forsett, Javorius Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West and even former first-round draft pick Trent Richardson, who is trying to revive his career.
Returning Pro Bowlers: LB Elvis Dumervil, P Sam Koch, G Marshal Yanda.
Biggest question: How quickly can they get healthy? That starts with Flacco, who had his consecutive games played streak end at 122 after he tore his ACL in Week 11. The Ravens are also counting on 37-year-old receiver Steve Smith Sr. to come back from a torn Achilles and be a meaningful contributor. To compete for a playoff spot, Baltimore will need to stay much healthier in 2016, and hope some veterans found a Fountain of Youth this offseason.