The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens rank in the top-10 for Super Bowl odds heading into 2013. No one is really all that surprised, but whether or not they should be could be seen as a bit of a mixed bag.
One one end, Baltimore still has their new “Joe Cool” in quarterback Joe Flacco, who seemingly morphed into Joe Montana during a “perfect” stretch in last year’s playoffs, where he threw zero interceptions en route to his first NFL title and a Super Bowl MVP. The question with Flacco is, is he now a brand new quarterback who can lead the Ravens to several more Super Bowl appearances, or is he still the mediocre regular season passer we’ve seen for the first five years of his career? Only time will tell.
Elsewhere, one has to believe the loss of retired inside linebacker Ray Lewis will hit the team in a negative way. Lewis was gradually regressing as a play-maker, but still brought elite leadership and excellent emotion to the field, and until the Super Bowl (which he arguably stunk in) was actually playing some of the best ball of his career. But either way you look at it, he’s gone, and so is the guy Baltimore meant to replace him with (Dannell Ellerbe). The Ravens did draft a solid inside linebacker as the future of the middle of their 3-4 scheme in Arthur Brown, but again, only time will tell if he’s the answer for no more Ray Lewis.
But wait, there’s more. The Ravens also lost pass-rusher Paul Kruger, ball-hawking safety Ed Reed and play-making wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
In other words, not too long after making their mark as the best team in the NFL, the Ravens dismantled their team down to one with a borderline elite quarterback going to work with spare parts.
That, or their front office knows the core guys they kept around are what really makes this engine hum, and replacing their aging departures with young, cheap alternatives was the true answer to a repeat bid.
Instead of clinging to what got them to their first Super Bowl in over a decade, GM Ozzie Newsome and co. drafted smartly and brought in quality options such as Elvis Dumervil and Michael Huff to round out their defense. And on offense, they plan to lean more on Super Bowl hero Jacoby Jones, while keeping Ray Rice fresh by giving backup running back Bernard Pierce the ball a bit more in 2013.
Will the cost-cutting moves end up being a genius chess-like tactic? On paper it doesn’t really seem to be the case, but considering the Ravens made an unlikely run a year ago, you just can’t bet against this team with much confidence anymore.