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What do you expect from the Ravens in 2014?

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An expectation is a two-edged sword. It can spur you on to success in difficult times and it can hold you captive if it’s not realistic.

Since 2000, the Ravens have had high expectations of themselves. Prior to that point they had talented players and intermittent success but hadn’t made their mark as a consistent winner.

Ozzie Newsome constructed and Marvin Lewis conducted the best defense in the history of football. John Harbaugh is among the game’s winningest coaches; Jonathan Ogden made the Hall of Fame and will soon be followed by Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and perhaps Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.

This franchise is only entering its 19th season. Considering all it has accomplished thus far, to say the expectations for 2014 are high would be an understatement.

Coaches and players will tell you they want to focus on one game at a time. Although that’s a cliche, it’s a wise approach to winning.

In reality, coaches and players have the same aim as fans: winning the Super Bowl. If they don’t, why do they even bother? To accomplish that goal, a lot of work must be done.

Of first importance and often overlooked is the vitality of staying healthy. It happens every year – more talented teams lose to less talented teams because of an injury.

Secondly, teams must remember that the NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. Everyone is healthy and excited at the start. But completing the task set before you is a matter of two things: preparation and determination. There are times when you seem to be going nowhere even though you know you’re moving forward. There are times when you’re cruising and you need to pace yourself.

But in the end, if you don’t finish, you have fallen short. A December record of 33-26, a playoff record of 14-7, and two Super Bowl titles since 2000 proves the Ravens know how to finish.

What about this season?

According to the winning percentage of their opponents’ 2013 season, the Ravens have an “easier” schedule this year than they did last year. In 2014 Baltimore won’t have to play great teams like the Packers, Patriots or Broncos. They have a late bye week (Week 11) and their furthest game away from home is against the Texans (a dome team with the worst record in football a year ago).

That said, they still need to play the games, and play them with a new roster; a roster which is not close to being fully formed.

Sure, the nucleus of Joe Flacco, Marshal Yanda, Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith and Ray Rice will guide the offense. Yes, the defensive core of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb and Daryl Smith is in tact. And contrary to the belief of some, the Ravens upgraded on both sides of the ball by bringing in new players via free agency and the draft.

With about three and a half months to go before the season begins, the Ravens’ preparation for their “marathon” is on schedule.

Of course the goal is to win the Super Bowl. To be eligible, a team must first make the playoffs. The ideal scenario to do so is for a team to win its division.

How many wins will that take?

The Ravens can and should win at least 12 games. That’s a lofty goal, but so what? Can you honestly say the Ravens will be out-matched against any of their upcoming opponents to the point where Baltimore should expect to lose?

Since the Ravens came into existence in 1996, no NFL team that’s won at least 12 games has ever been denied a playoff berth. The only team in that span to miss the playoffs after an 11-win regular season was the 2008 Patriots.

The evolution of the new offense, the cohesion of the offensive line, and how the defense performs with two young safeties are all aspects of the upcoming season that will determine the Ravens’ playoff fate.

All we can go on now is what we know to be true. Harbaugh is a winner, Flacco is capable of playing great football, the running game can only improve and the defense got younger and seemingly more talented.

What is your expectation for the 2014 Ravens?

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