Over the past four seasons few teams have enjoyed the same level of success as the Baltimore Ravens without a Super Bowl ring to show for it. Can you think of any other team that has made the playoffs and won a game each of the last four seasons, only to fall short of the ultimate goal each and every time.
Twice in that four-year span the Ravens have been on the doorstep to the Super Bowl twice only to be defeated twice in the AFC Championship game, the first time was in 2008 against Pittsburgh, then again last season in heartbreaking fashion against New England. Ravens fans probably do not need a reminder but the team was a dropped pass away from winning and a chip shot field goal away from forcing overtime.
Yet, that time has past and the Ravens have got to move forward because even though the team has been a consistent contender for the past four seasons, the window is closing with this core group of players. Two key cornerstones of the franchise Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, who are 37 and 33 years old, respectively. Football is a young mans game, therefore is the Ravens want to win a championship with this core group of players there time is running out.
To makes things even worse, 1st team All-Pro Terrell Suggs tore his achilles this offseason, meaning that he will miss a large portion of the 2012 season if not the entire thing.
However, there is still a solid core in place. Besides the old stalwarts Lewis and Reed, the defense also boasts young stars in Haloti Ngata and LaDarius Webb, who have helped maintain the defensive dominance the Ravens have exhibited for well over a decade. Meanwhile, the offense is led by embattled starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who was a dropped pass away from completing one of the greatest game-winning drives in NFL history.
Flacco has been heavily criticized at times but it is hard to argue with his impressive 44-20 record as a starter, which inclues a 5-4 record in the playoffs with four of those wins coming on the road. He has also had three straight seasons with at least 20 touchdowns.
While there is no arguing that Flacco is the most important offensive player on the Ravens, the player who makes the offense go is star running back Ray Rice, who totalled over 2,000 total yards last season and scored 15 touchdowns. Second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith is another emerging talent, who distinguished himself last season with 50 receptions for 841 yards and seven touchdowns.
So as you can see, the Ravens have plenty of talent. The question is will it be enough to finally get over the hump and back into the big game in 2012?
For the answer to that question, we will have to wait until the 2012 NFL season kickoffs because it can only be settled on the field, but for now, here is a projection of the Ravens 53-man opening day roster:
QB (3): Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, Curtis Painter.
RB (3): Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Anthony Allen.
FB (1): Vonta Leach.
WR (6): Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Tommy Streeter, David Reed.
TE (3): Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Davon Drew.
OL (9): Michael Oher, Bryant McKinnie, Matt Birk, Marshall Yanda, Bobbie Williams, Kelechi Osemele, Gino Gradkowski, Jah Reid, Ramon Harewood.
DL (7): Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, DeAngelo Tyson, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Ryan McBean.
LB (8): Ray Lewis, Jameel McLain, Paul Kruger, Courtney Upshaw, Sergio Kindle, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Dannell Ellerbe, Chavis Williams.
DB (10): Ed Reed, LaDarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Bernard Pollard, Corey Graham, Cary Williams, Chykie Brown, Christian Thompson, Sean Considine, Asa Jackson.
ST (3): K – Billy Cundiff, P – Sam Koch, LS – Morgan Cox.