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Ravens hold final practice before heading south

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Ravens hold final practice before heading south

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The music blared in the Baltimore Ravens locker room Saturday as the players threw their football gear into black duffel bags lying in front of their cubicles.

Next stop, New Orleans.

After one final practice at their own training facility, the Super Bowl-bound Ravens will take Sunday off before heading for the Big Easy on Monday afternoon in anticipation of their matchup on Feb. 3 against the San Francisco 49ers.

``We're right where we want to be,'' wide receiver Torrey Smith said. ``Now we have an opportunity to play in the big one. But at the end of the day, we're still getting ready for a football game.''

Coach John Harbaugh conducted practice from Thursday through Saturday as if it was a normal work week. They went hard on Thursday and Friday and eased up Saturday.

``We've had a great week. We had an excellent practice,'' Harbaugh said after the closed two-hour session. ``The guys are very sharp and they're excited. We'll have to go down there and do just as well (or) do better.''

The next time the Ravens hit the practice field, it will be in New Orleans. This week, at least, there were no distractions.

``I think it's always important to have a good practice no matter what,'' Harbaugh said. ``You've got to practice well to play well. You pretty much play the way you practice. That's something that we learned when we were kids and that's not going to change.''

It was final practice at the team's training complex for Ray Lewis, who intends to retire after the Super Bowl. Center Matt Birk has made no such announcement, but there is a possibility the 36-year-old is also preparing for his last game.

``I don't think like that,'' Birk said. ``I just try to live in the moment. That's just kind of my mindset. I don't think about the future or if this could be it. It drives my wife nuts, but that's just not how I operate.''

Now in his 15th NFL season - the fourth with Baltimore - Birk's knees are scarred from several operations and he had surgery during the offseason to repair varicose veins in his legs. But he played in all 16 games during the regular season and remained solid in the middle of the offensive line during the postseason.

``I'm not sure about Matt's plans,'' Harbaugh said. ``If he decides to come back next year that would be awesome. He's smart, he's tough. To my eye, he's playing the best football that he's played since he's been here, right now. To have that be true at the end of a (long) season is very impressive. We would not be where we are without Matt Birk.''

Looking ahead to the challenge next Sunday, Harbaugh called the 49ers ``a very well-coached football team.'' He said it with a grin, because San Francisco is coached by his little brother, Jim.

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Best case, worst case scenario for WR Steve Smith Sr.

Best case, worst case scenario for WR Steve Smith Sr.

Clifton Brown and Bo Smolka are taking turns putting 25 key Ravens under the microscope leading up to veterans reporting to training camp. They’ll speculate on a best-case, worst-case scenario for at least one player every day, concluding with quarterback Joe Flacco on July 25.

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Steve Smith Sr., 37-year-old wide receiver

Best-case scenario for Smith:

He enjoys a typical 1,000-yard season, and he remains the Ravens’ top receiver.

Why it could happen:

It’s dangerous to bet against Smith making a full recovery from Achilles surgery, even in the twilight of his career. Few athletes perform with more of a chip on their shoulder than Smith, who is always driven to prove doubters wrong. He’s a technician at route running, he studies film diligently, and he’s a master at using his body and hands to ward off defenders. Smith never relied on pure speed to be a top receiver. So even if he’s a tad less explosive, Smith has the talent to end his career playing at a high level.

Worst-case scenario for Smith:

Smith’s body betrays him, and the Ravens’ depth at wide receiver reduces his playing time and role.

Why it could happen:

Father Time is undefeated, and may finally be calling for Smith. The older an athlete gets, the harder it gets to recover from injuries. With their deep group of tight ends, and the addition of wide receivers Mike Wallace and rookie Chris Moore, the Ravens may not be as dependent on Smith as they have been. Even if Smith is healthy, his role in the offense might be less prominent.

RELATED: FLACCO HAS LONG ODDS FOR MVP

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Flacco has same MVP odds as Winston and Mariota

Flacco has same MVP odds as Winston and Mariota

Joe Flacco has been a Super Bowl MVP and has won 10 playoff games. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have played one NFL season.

However, all three of those quarterbacks have been given the same odds (100/1) of winning next season’s MVP award by sportsbook Bovada.lv.

People who think Flacco is an elite quarterback may view that as disrespect. But the Bovada.lv odds throw even more shade at Flacco.

Sixteen quarterbacks are given a better chance of winning the MVP award in 2016 than Flacco. Some of the names you would expect, like Aaron Rodgers, who is the favorite at 4/1, followed by Ben Roethlisberger (7/1), Cam Newton (15/2), Russell Wilson (8/1), and Tom Brady (9/1).

But do Blake Bortles (66/1) of the Jaguars or Brock Osweiler of the Texans (66/1) really have a better chance of winning the MVP than Flacco? According to Bovada.lv they do. That’s also an indication that not much is expected from the Ravens overall after their 5-11 season. The better your team does, the better your chances of winning the MVP.

Newton won the MVP last year starting at 50/1 odds. So if you believe in Flacco and the Ravens, those 100/1 MVP odds for Flacco may look like an enticing play.

RELATED: Can Dumervil lead a rebirth of Ravens's pass rush?

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Ravens under the Microscope: Best case, worst case for DE Elvis Dumervil

Ravens under the Microscope: Best case, worst case for DE Elvis Dumervil

As we countdown to training camp, Clifton Brown and Bo Smolka will take turns putting 25 key Ravens under the microscope this month.

They’ll speculate on a best-case, worst-case scenario for at least one player every day. They’ll begin with players looking to carve out a role, or a roster spot. They’ll end with the Ravens’ most important players, concluding with quarterback Joe Flacco on July 25. 

RELATED: DUMERVIL DESPERATE TO GET A RING

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Elvis Dumervil, 32-year-old linebacker

Best-case scenario:

Dumervil is among the NFL’s sack leaders and spearheads a rebirth of the Ravens’ pass rush.

Why it could happen: 

Dumervil equaled his career high with 17 sacks as recently as 2014. He keeps himself in great shape, and says he feels great after offseason foot surgery. If Terrell Suggs returns healthy, Dumervil won’t have to face as many double-teams, or play as many snaps. Dumervil looks at last season’s results as unacceptable – just six sacks for him, and just five wins for the Ravens. He’s motivated to double both totals – at least.

Worst-case scenario:

Dumervil is no longer an elite pass rusher

Why it could happen:

Dumervil entered the league in 2006, and at some point the wear and tear will start to show. If young pass rushers like Za’Darius Smith, Kamalei Correa, and Branson Kaufusi  are effective, Dumervil could see his role diminish as the season wears on.

RELATED: BEST & WORST CASE SCENARIO FOR JIMMY SMITH