Baltimore’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII was bittersweet. The Ravens had a reason to celebrate but it must also be put into perspective. Ray Lewis will never play for the Baltimore Ravens again, neither will Ed Reed. They weren’t just great players, they were tempo setters, the generals on the field and they brought intangibles to the team that personified the Ravens playing style and can’t be replaced.
2012 was a fantastic year for the Baltimore Ravens and all its fans, because the expectation at the beginning of last season was the Ravens were a dumpster fire and wouldn’t even make the playoffs; everyone expected the Ravens to miss the playoffs. They lost key players (Cory Redding, Jarret Johnson) and a key coach (Chuck Pagano). Yes, we can say they proved everyone wrong and say I told you so, but let’s be honest, who didn’t have the Broncos in the Super Bowl last year? Not only did the Ravens advance to the playoffs, they went to the Super Bowl and beat the best defense with good offense; overall it was still a great game and hard fought until the very end. Not surprisingly, the Ravens are projected as the under-dog and are also projected to miss the playoffs. As I have said before, this is the most under-appreciated Champion in NFL history.
Yes Ray Lewis retired, Ed Reed has moved, and Anquan Boldin in now a 49er, but we still have Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Terrell Suggs and Head Coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens have also acquired some nice players this offseason. Elvis Dumervil will be a great compliment to Suggs and this duo will fit well in Pagano’s “get after the quarterback” defense. In addition to Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, the Ravens also signed Michael Huff, who is a solid safety and good veteran for rookie Matt Elam to learn from. The Ravens defense has the ability and potential to be one of the best in franchise history; possibly the best Baltimore has seen since 2006. Basically, the defense is younger, faster, more athletic, and extremely versatile. The trio of Dumervil, Suggs, and Ngata will be a lethal combination. All three players are elite at their respective positions and can take over games by themselves. Ngata is so dominant that he will occupy blockers on the inside. In turn, other defensive lineman like Arthur Jones and Chris Canty will have an easier path to the quarterback. Suggs and Dumervil will then face less blockers on the outside. Opponents’ offenses will just have to pick their poison when facing the Ravens defense.
The one thing on offense that the Ravens need is a solid number 2 receiver. Yes, Jacoby Jones is technically the number 2 receiver on the team, but his value is more in the return game. Jones should remain Flacco’s third option; the Ravens cannot afford Jones to get injured due to his return ability. Tandon Doss and especially David Reed need to step up and prove they have the ability to succeed. Reed is entering his fourth year in the pros while Doss is entering his third. I think Pitta will be used more as a tight end/wide receiver and Dickson will be used sparingly, but he also needs to step and perform.
The offense will live and die by Flacco, so let’s hope he doesn’t have a flip flop year again; he was good at home and horrible on the road and if it weren’t for a busted play in San Diego, they might not have made it to the Super Bowl. However, the one thing that saves Flacco is Rice in the backfield, especially with Rice being involved in the passing game. Rice remains the heart and soul of the offense is gone and as long as he is on the field, the Ravens offense can continue to be successful.
It is going to be another exciting season, although awkward not seeing No. 52 on the field. With the new names and new faces, there is one thing that doesn’t change, the head coach. Harbaugh will continue to demand hard work, high performance and the players will respond, just as they have in the past.
With all the additions, the Ravens still have a tough road ahead. This year the Ravens are forced to open on the road against Denver. Unless there is another defensive debacle on Denver’s part and Jacoby Jones and Joe Flacco have another miracle, I don’t see this game ending well. Opening the season on the road is tough, opening against the Broncos is even tougher. Denver, specifically Rahim Moore have spent the entire offseason wondering what could have been. Had Moore not made that egregious error, the Ravens would not have played in the Super Bowl. After Denver, the Ravens return home to face the Browns and Texans in consecutive weeks. If the Ravens do not perform well, the season could easily start with two losses to the Broncos and Texans. Following the Texans, the schedule gets progressively tougher. There are weaker teams on the schedule but the Packers, Steelers, Bears, Vikings, and Patriots will test Baltimore to their limits. Although, with their recent dominance over the AFC North indicates they should win the division yet again.
Every opponent will give the Ravens all they can handle but the Ravens will be able to handle the added pressure of defending their Super Bowl title. I see them going 10-6 and the AFC North Division title, but don’t expect another Super Bowl title, don’t even expect the Ravens to make it past the divisional round.
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