2013-14 NFL Futures: Can the Baltimore Ravens Repeat?

joe-flaccoWhen the 2012-13 NFL season began, most people thought that the Baltimore Ravens would be a competitive team. However, few experts predicted them to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy last February, especially given the strong seasons that Denver, New England, San Francisco and Atlanta had.

Nevertheless, the aging Wild Card Ravens stormed through the playoffs and on towards the Super Bowl XLVII title. Now the big question remains whether Baltimore can experience Super Bowl success two years in a row.

At this point, most experts aren’t convinced that they’ll become the eighth team in NFL history to repeat as champions. The big reason why is roster turnover since Baltimore has lost a number of key players from last year’s championship squad.

For starters, the team’s best possession receiver, Anquan Boldin, went to the San Francisco 49ers. The offense will also miss starting center Matt Birk, who went out on top by retiring this offseason.

ed-reedLosses on the other side of the ball are even more noteworthy because starting safeties Ed Reed (Houston) and Bernard Pollard (Tennessee Titans) both departed via free agency. Other key players moving on to other teams include linebackers Paul Kruger (Cleveland) and Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins) as well as cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia).

As if all of this isn’t enough, Baltimore lost the heart and soul of their team when franchise legend Ray Lewis retired. No. 52 only played six regular season games and recorded 57 tackles due to a triceps injury. However, he came back for the playoffs and was an inspirational force, helping guide his team to a Super Bowl win. So the question now is what’s left for the Ravens going into this year.

Everything begins with starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who signed a six-year, $120.6 million deal this past offseason. Flacco has always been consistent for the Ravens and put up solid numbers. However, he took things to the next level in last season’s playoffs after throwing for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in four games. Flacco was so clutch that he out-dueled more heralded QB’s throughout the playoffs like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

ray-rice-ravensAnother big piece that’ll be returning for Baltimore is running back Ray Rice. The sixth-year man out of Rutgers has consistently been one of the best rushers in the NFL, and this doesn’t look to change in 2013. He once again turned in a solid regular season after compiling 1,143 rushing yards, 478 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns.

The receiving corp will be somewhat of a mystery going into the season. Torrey Smith has served as a solid deep threat, having caught 49 balls for 855 yards and 8 TD’s last year. Jacoby Jones is another veteran who’ll be hoping to make an impact on the Ravens’ passing game. He caught 30 passes for 406 yards last year with the Houston Texans.

Recent additions Brandon Stokely (via Denver) and Dallas Clark could also be seeing some passes thrown their way. The latter was signed in an effort to replace injured tight ends Dennis Pitta (hip) and Ed Dickson (hamstring). As for Stokely, the 37-year-old proved to be ageless after catching 45 passes for 544 yards and 5 touchdowns in his lone Denver season.

Elvis Dumervil, John Harbaugh, Don MartindaleMoving to the defensive side, Baltimore has picked up a large number of key additions to replace their losses. Elvis Dumervil landed with the Ravens after his agent made a fax machine error during contract proceedings with the Broncos. Dumervil brings his 11.0 sacks from last season to Baltimore and should once again be a force on the edge.

Other new faces include Chris Canty (New York Giants), Marcus Spears (Cowboys), linebacker Daryl Smith (Jacksonville), safety Michael Huff (Oakland) in addition to draft picks like K-State linebacker (Arthur Brown) and Florida safety Matt Elam.

One more point worth making about the Ravens D is that Terrell Suggs will be healthy this year. Suggs missed a large majority of 2012 with a torn Achilles tendon, but did manage to return for the latter part of the season. Now healthy and playing opposite Dumervil, he should have a fantastic 2013.

Baltimore could feature as many as seven new starters on defense, which is scary when you’re trying to repeat as Super Bowl champions. However, many people think that this team has gotten younger and faster on D.

Last year’s aging core didn’t exactly tear it up in the regular season after finishing 12th in scoring defense (21.5), 15th in sacks (37) and 17th in YPG allowed (350.9). With the diminishment of Reed and Lewis’ athletic ability, it wasn’t going to be long anyways before Baltimore needed to upgrade on defense.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is one guy who’s definitely excited about the younger defense that his club will feature. “You have to face the fact the game is changing from an offensive standpoint, with more spread offenses and more read-option,” he said. “You have to become more athletic and you have to have people who can change direction and move and accelerate. I think our moves allow us to play that style of game on defense. And also, with some of our new guys in the secondary, with Matt (Elam), Dig and Michael Huff, we’ve got guys who can match up and play man to man, and that means you don’t have to be substituting all the time.”

There’s definitely been a lot of change and turnover in Baltimore this offseason. However, the team appears confident that they can contend for another Super Bowl title. Of course, pulling off another magical postseason run like last year won’t be an easy task for this club.