When it comes to national expectations, this year’s Baltimore Ravens are in some uncharted territory.
While the goal in Baltimore in recent years has always been nothing short of a playoff appearance, gaining respect on a national level has always been an uphill climb in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era. Whether it’s been the defense getting too old, Joe Flacco being too average, or John Harbaugh being the second best head coach in his family, Ravens skeptics have never been hard to find outside of Baltimore.
The Ravens have never lacked bulletin board material. Embracing that underdog mentality was as big a part of their 2012 championship run after Ray Lewis revealed to the team that the 2012 season would be his last.
However, the underdog mentality no longer applies.
Peter King had the Ravens ranked as the top team in his way too early 2015 power rankings. Tedy Bruschi, who is as New England as clam chowder, said that the Ravens have the best roster in the NFL, despite the fact that the Patriots are coming off of a Super Bowl victory. And Bovada has the Ravens with a 25/1 shot to hoist the Lombardi, sitting only behind the Colts, Patriots and Broncos.
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Going into 2015 the Ravens will have their fair share of challenges. Can the secondary rebound and stay healthy? Can Breshad Perriman fill the shoes of Torrey Smith? Will the transition to Marc Trestman’s offense be seamless?
While these are all very valid questions, the Ravens’ biggest challenge entering 2015 may be handling such high expectations.
To validate these early predictions the Ravens will be relying on some new faces, some new starters, and a young, somewhat untested group.
Timmy Jernigan has big shoes to fill replacing Haloti Ngata. He filled in admirably the final four games of last season when Ngata was suspended, but the sample size is still fairly small. There is no doubt that Jernigan has the talent, but the biggest question is whether he stay healthy for an entire season.
On the other side of the ball, Breshad Perriman isn’t penciled in as the starter, but he will be relied upon to replace Torrey Smith’s speed. Kamar Aiken or Marlon Brown could be lining up on the opposite field of Steve Smith in week one, but neither can replicate the departed Smith as a deep threat. If the Ravens hope to fulfill their ultimate goal, Perriman will need to make significant contributions.
Dennis Pitta’s future remains uncertain. Assuming he’s not on the field week one, can Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams carry the load? After investing early picks on both, the Ravens will rely on them to make plays even if Dennis Pitta is healthy.
Even with all the new faces, the Ravens have a lot of continuity. The offensive line, which could be the best in the NFL, will remain the same. Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh are one of the best coach/quarterback tandems in the NFL, and the Ravens special teams units is one of the best in the league, which can’t be underestimated.
Not to mention that the Ravens are always a resilient group under John Harbaugh. After all the offseason issues in 2014, many expected them to crumble under so much scrutiny. They were wrong, In comparison, the challenges this upcoming season are certainly conquerable.
But still, this is somewhat unfamiliar territory for Harbaugh and Flacco. After seven years of consistent success and a Super Bowl victory and pleas for national respect from Ravens fans throughout that time, they’re finally getting the recognition that they deserve.
How they respond to it will certainly be interesting to watch in 2015.