Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome have employed scores of smart people in their organization for years, and have even had a Harvard graduate — center Matt Birk or fullback Kyle Juszczyk — on the field for many of those years. Second-year guard John Urschel is an unabashed smart person.
So what happens when a Harvard analysis of each NFL team's "core roster" gives the Ravens just a 9 percent chance to make the playoffs, ahead of only bottom feeders such as the Jacksonville Jaguars (3 percent), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3 percent), Tennessee Titans (2 percent), and Oakland Raiders (1 percent)?
It appears Harvard, at the very least, doesn't take care of its own.
The study, by Kurt Bullard of the Harvard Sports Analytics Collective, uses a multi-step formula to assess a team's playoff chances by the talent on its roster. He used Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value (AV) tool for a group of core players — defined as quarterback, running back, two wide receivers, tight end, top two offensive linemen, top four front seven players, and top two defensive backs. For rookies, the backup's AV was used. Bullard used the ESPN.com depth chart.
(For the record, I tried to replicate the Ravens' AV score of 103 with the players given and came up with something higher. I am not a Harvard mathematician. We all have warts, I suppose.)
Then, Bullard took the AV aggregate number and converted it to FiveThirtyEight's ELO rating, and used that rating to run a schedule simulation. That gives the Ravens, who lost in the AFC divisional round last year to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, the fifth-worst playoff odds in the NFL.
Under this formula, the Ravens are hurt by the inclusion of Breshad Perriman, a rookie, and tight end Crockett Gillmore, who made a limited impact in his first year. They also don't get much from their secondary in this exercise, though there's plenty of production from the front-seven.
I suppose the issue is that their "core," while not terrible, extends far deeper down the roster than just the top. The defensive line is young, deep, and talented. The secondary could take a huge step forward, if healthy. The offensive line can't be defined by just two players — when healthy, it was one of the best in the NFL.
Then again, raging against the numbers makes me sound like an Orioles fan who thought the preseason projections for four games under .500 and wholesale regression from the pitching staff were insulting. How are those looking now?