Many Baltimore Ravens’ fans have yet to get over the fact that our team has just won the Super Bowl. Yet, some of us have already started to look forward to next season, when the Ravens will try to repeat as world champions.
The recent track record for repeats is not good as the last team to do so was the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004. Since then, three of the previous champions have missed the playoffs the following season and the other four went one and done.
The 2012 Ravens were an extremely talented team but will end up losing significant contributors to their Super Bowl winning team this offseason as their backs are against the salary cap. Joe Flacco will be signing a huge deal fairly soon and the front office will struggle to retain key free agents such as Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, and Paul Kruger to name a few.
We will soon start to see pieces from this team chip away, which will make it tough for the Ravens to stay competitive next season. However, the future isn’t completely bleak as there are still many reasons as to why the Ravens will make the playoffs for a sixth consecutive year. Here are the top five:
5. Running Game
While the Ravens may lose some key players over the next few years, fans can look forward to having one constant in an excellent running game. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce will be a fearsome tandem in the Ravens’ backfield for years to come and the offensive line has a nice core group of young guys who will continue to improve. Rice remains a top-three NFL running back and Pierce can easily be substituted without any loss of talent on the field.
While the offensive line was a huge concern for the majority of the 2012 season, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about the future. Kelechi Osemele looks to become one of the Ravens’ best linemen and Marshall Yanda will continue to anchor the right side along with Michael Oher. With the likely retirement and/or release of Matt Birk and Bobbie Williams, Gino Gradkowski and Jah Reid will have to move into starting roles, but both look fairly promising.
4. Degrading AFC
The Ravens will be able to stay competitive in the AFC because there’s simply not as much competition as we’re used to. Within the division, the Pittsburgh Steelers are fading fast and have many holes to address, the Cincinnati Bengals are improving yet still can’t get over the hump, and the Cleveland Browns are still the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals could potentially win the division but they still have too many questions to address before a case can be made.
As for the rest of the conference, things shouldn’t change too much from last season. The AFC East should improve as a whole but the Patriots are still the cream of the crop there; the AFC South will once again see the Colts and Texans fight over the division crown; and the AFC West looks to be all Broncos for years to come. While there are always surprises every season, I still don’t see the AFC playoff teams changing anytime soon and the Ravens should be right in the mix.
3. Players Getting Healthy
In the excitement of the Ravens’ thrilling playoff run, many seemed to forget about some of the serious injuries they were dealing with. The Ravens will see two of their best players return to action next season in cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Jameel McClain. Both were ruled out for the season before the playoffs started, and left some huge shoes to fill. The Ravens will already be without Ray Lewis next season and it seems likely that Cary Williams will be gone as well through free agency, but a healthy McClain and Webb are upgrades over them.
Additionally, Terrell Suggs was still not 100% after his Achilles injury, despite returning to action in week seven. A full offseason will help tremendously as Suggs tries to return to 2011 form, when he was named Defensive Player of the Year. Suggs was not anywhere near his normal dominant self this season, so expect to see great improvements in the pass rush next season.
2. Joe Flacco
After capping off one of the best postseasons in NFL history with a Super Bowl victory and MVP, Joe Flacco proved that he can do it all. With Cam Cameron out of the picture, Joe Flacco’s stock has nowhere to go but up. Jim Caldwell will be able to put his own touch on the offense during this offseason, allowing the offense to become more efficient and consistent. The best is yet to come with Joe Flacco.
1. Ozzie Newsome
The biggest reason for the Ravens’ success over the past five seasons has been the outstanding work by general manager Ozzie Newsome. He’s got an eye for talent and isn’t afraid to cut ties with players on the decline. The Ravens have plenty of tough decisions to make when it comes to managing the salary cap this offseason, but Newsome is the best in the business and will make the right choices. Additionally, the Ravens have always been one of the better-drafting teams in the NFL and are always able to put together a roster that’s capable of winning come the regular season. If someone needs to be credited for five consecutive playoff seasons, it’s Ozzie Newsome.