The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. This isn’t your standard power ranking. Here, we care only about yards and points, not wins and losses.
Hopefully we can all agree that Joe Flacco has established himself as one of the NFL's best big-game quarterbacks. He was nearly flawless throughout last year's playoff run, averaging 285.0 yards per game and 9.0 per attempt, throwing 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Flacco was terrific in the postseason the year before, too, passing for 300-plus yards and two scores in the AFC title game at Foxborough.
So if you've owned Flacco in a playoff fantasy league, you probably enjoyed the experience. In the regular season, however, he hasn't been much of an asset.
Flacco has never passed for more than 25 TDs in any year, he's never averaged 240 yards per game, and he's never ranked among the top-16 per-game fantasy scorers at his position. He's becoming what Troy Aikman used to be — an outstanding real-life quarterback who doesn't pay the fantasy bills.
Of course it can be argued that Flacco's end-of-season statistical surge might actually continue into 2013, since it began immediately after Baltimore fired OC Cam Cameron. Over the Ravens' final seven games, playoffs included, Flacco passed for 1,737 yards and 15 TDs. But here's the problem: Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta accounted for 817 of those yards and nine of the touchdowns. Neither player will be in the mix this season.
Pitta, as you've no doubt heard, suffered an ugly hip injury early in camp (fracture, dislocation). He'll miss the upcoming season, a brutal turn of events for a player in a contract year coming off a breakout campaign. Pitta saw 94 targets in 2012, catching 61 for 669 yards and seven TDs. He also added another 14 receptions and three scores in the postseason. Pitta would have been even more heavily targeted in 2013, in all likelihood, a result of Boldin's departure. Ed Dickson has a huge opportunity ahead of him, but he's not Pitta's equal as a route-runner, nor does he have Pitta's rapport with Flacco. Dickson had a respectable season back in 2011 (54-528-5), but he was barely a rumor last year (33 targets, 225 yards). He's capable of paying perhaps 70-80 cents on the dollar to Pitta investors; don't expect a top-12 tight end season.
Third-year receiver Torrey Smith should see a spike in targets this year, because ... well, because who the hell else is Flacco going to throw to? Jacoby Jones? Meh. Visanthe Shiancoe? No. Tandon Doss or Deonte Thompson? Doubt it. Realistically, this team needs to add another receiver. Or two. (Brandon Lloyd? Austin Collie? Dunno, but it needs to add someone.)
We think of Smith primarily as a vertical threat, but it's not as if he's never run an intermediate pattern. He was targeted 110 times last year, and it would be a small surprise if that number doesn't jump into the 125-135 range. (Flacco has never attempted 550 passes in a season, so it seems doubtful any Ravens receiver will see 150-160 looks.) Smith probably won't continue to average 17-plus yards per reception, but an increase in chances should give him a realistic shot at his first 1,000-yard season. He delivered 855 with eight TDs last year. I have no complaints with Smith's current Yahoo! ADP (50.8, WR21), as it allows room for a modest profit.
Ray Rice has topped 2,000 scrimmage yards twice in his five NFL seasons and he's caught at least 60 passes in each of the past four years. Considering the state of this team's receiving corps, Rice is a good bet to again led the Ravens in receptions, just as he did in 2011 and 2009. The Ravens may need him to catch 80. Ray was responsible for one of the signature plays of the 2012 season — this ridiculous fourth down conversion — and he finished the year with 1,621 scrimmage yards, 61 catches and 10 TDs. Without question, he'll benefit from the team's recent decision to re-sign three-time Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach.
And still, the fantasy community doesn't seem too excited about Rice. He's the ninth overall player off the board in a typical Yahoo! draft — an odd spot for a 26-year-old back who's ranked top-six at his position in three of the past four years. We've all downgraded Rice based on the expectation that Bernard Pierce will have an expanded role in the Ravens' ground game. Head coach John Harbaugh certainly sounds plenty excited about his second-year back:
"Bernard Pierce has gotten bigger and faster," Harbaugh said. "He's done a great job with his offseason conditioning program. He looks good, and I'd say the first two days of practice, he's a better player now than he was last year even at the end of the season."
Pierce wasn't a factor in the passing game as a rookie, catching just seven balls on 11 targets. But he averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the regular season, then 5.2 in the playoffs. He topped the 100-yard mark in Week 16 against the Giants, and he did it again in the Wild Card round against the Colts. The workload distribution we saw from Baltimore in the postseason — 92 touches for Rice, 40 for Pierce — could serve as the backfield blueprint for 2013. Thus, you really need to think of Pierce as a handcuff with benefits, not unlike Ben Tate or Bryce Brown. He's in the flex conversation, a value pick at his current ADP (124.8).
The Ravens defense lost Ed Reed to free agency and Ray Lewis to retirement, plus they released leading tackler Bernard Pollard in a cap-related move. And Dannell Ellerbe is gone, too. So things are going to look a little different in 2013 — not bad, necessarily, but different. Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb are returning from injuries, presumably at full strength, and Elvis Dumervil signed with Baltimore following the Broncos/Kinko's debacle. The team also addressed the defense with its first four draft picks; first-round Florida safety Matt Elam and second-round K-State linebacker Arthur Brown should both emerge as useful IDPs. We've ranked this D/ST as a fringe starting unit in fantasy, because it still has talent on the depth chart and Cleveland on the schedule (plus the Jets, Dolphins and Bills).
2012 team stats: 24.9 points per game (10), 249.8 passing yards per game (14), 118.8 rushing yards per game (11)
Previous Juggernauts: 32. NY Jets, 31. Oakland, 30. Jacksonville, 29. Buffalo, 28. Cleveland, 27. Tennessee, 26. San Diego, 25. Miami, 24. St. Louis, 23. Pittsburgh, 22. Arizona, 21. Minnesota, 20. Kansas City, 19. Chicago
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