There was no sophomore jinx for Ravens coach John "Jim" Harbaugh or his young QB, Joe Flacco. Baltimore picked up right where they left off the year before, making their second straight playoff appearance after the end of the era of one of the great geniuses of our Times, Brian Billick. Not only did the Ravens make the playoffs, they had the distinction of handing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady a taste of playoff humiliation, completely dominating in Foxboro 33-14. The Ravens were unable to sustain that momentum though, bowing out the next week in an uninspiring 20-3 loss in Indy.
The Ravens defense is still dominant, even without Rex Ryan and his giant teeth. Anchored by an impermeable middle 3 of tackles Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and Ray Lewis, the Ravens ranked 1st in the league in Y/A against the run. That's something we're used to seeing out of the Ravens.
What we're not used to seeing is a potent offense, but the Ravens brought that to the game last year too. 2nd year RB Ray Rice exploded onto the scene with a tremendous season that saw him gain over 2000 yards from scrimmage, and when the Ravens got near the goal line, Willis McGahee made the Ravens a lethal red zone team with 14 TDs. Flacco did not take a Rice-like leap forward in his second season, but he did improve over a strong rookie campaign, raising both is passer rating and his Y/A.
The Ravens had an embarrassment of weapons at running back last season, and a top 5 offensive line, and do again this year. One thing they didn't have though, is a wide receiver that scares anybody. I mean, Derrick Mason may crank out 1000 yard seasons (8 out of the last 9 seasons) in his sleep, not to mention continuing to be the lone standard bearer for the Tennessee Oilers, but he doesn't keep opposing DC's up at night. The Ravens addressed that hole with the acquisition of Anquan Boldin. Boldin's numbers, oddly enough, look a lot like Mason's over the last few years. A lot of catches, and hovering around the 1000 yard mark. He's a guy that is a more valuable player than what his statistics show though, and will help the offense.
On defense, you'll see pretty much the same group as last year, which is a good thing. The Ravens added more depth to an already outstanding unit by using their top draft pick on Texas pass rusher Sergio Kindle, and their second pick on 360 pound Alabama DT Terence Cody. The only area of this defense that looks at all permeable is the secondary, where future HOF safety Ed Reed is coming off of hip surgery, and corners Dominique Foxworth and Chris Carr are merely adequate.
It bears mentioning that the kicking game was a circus for the Ravens last year, and may be again this year, with veterans Billy Cundiff and former Bengal Shayne Graham competing for the job.
HERE'S YOUR FORECAST
Expectations could not be higher for the Ravens. They are definitely in the discussion as far as who will win the Super Bowl in February. Their early schedule is a bitch though, with trips to the Jets, Bengals, and Steelers in their first 4 games. They benefit from playing in a division that I think is going to be down this year though, and should win at least 5 out of their 6 division games. Plus, of course, this is a very good team. I say 11-5 and an AFC North title.