Defensive star Ed Reed is no longer with the Ravens
For the last 17 years since the teams creation in 1996 the Ravens have been about one thing: defence. When the team won its first Super Bowl in 2000 it was as a result of Ray Lewis and his record breaking defensive team. This, however, is 2013 and these are not your grandma's Ravens anymore. With the departure of Ray Lewis, who was without a doubt the emotional leader of the team and fellow star Ed Reed, the defensive legacy that has defined the team since its inception looks to be diminishing, as a new look Ravens seem to be taking form.
The Same Old Brand New Ravens
Fortunately for the Ravens they seem in excellent position to make this transition. Head Coach John Harbaugh proved last year that he is one of the very best in the business by guiding the Baltimore franchise to their second Lombardi trophy. The Ravens also boast one of the best front offices in sports. The team is led by General Manager Ozzie Newsome, considered by many to be a drafting genius, and is one of the very best in the NFL. The tandem of Harbaugh and Newsome showed this offseason that they are not afraid to change the status quo, losing 7 key players from last year to either retirement or free agency. Though the Ravens have made wholesale changes across the board this offseason, they committed their future to an incumbent Raven who they hope can be the new face of the franchise, 6th year quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco is a controversial character in NFL circles. Before his magical run in last years playoffs he was dismissed as all bark and no bite, with jokes about his consistency and lofty interview boasts drawing ridicule from media and fans alike. The playing field has somewhat changed however as the Super Bowl MVP now sits atop the NFL's highest mountain. Flacco certainly has done a lot to silence even his most staunch critics and the Ravens certainly showed their appreciation awarding him a then recording breaking contract, but his consistency has always been a major issue and how he lives up to his new role as not only the quarterback but leader of this new look team that will make or break Flacco as an elite player.
The Perfect Balance?
This is not to say Flacco has to go it alone on the Ravens, he still has a number of All Pro players around him that will ensure the Ravens are as formidable as ever. Ray Rice is a highly versatile running back, who can grind out the hard yards as well as make catches out of the backfield. Also despite the loss of so many stars on the defensive side the cast is still as intimidating as ever. Haloti Ngata has been a staple All Pro defensive lineman for the last 5 years, and the team staged a coup when it picked up 2009 Sack Leader Elvis Dumervil in free agency. This stellar cast is led by 2011's Defensive Player of the Year Terrelle Suggs who after being side lined by injury half last year is looking assert his dominance again and complete another full campaign since his award winning season two years ago. It will be Suggs who looks to fill Ray Lewis's shoes as defensive captain and emotional essence of the team. In fact it could be argued that the Ravens are one of the most balanced teams in the league with no real weaknesses on either side of the ball.
An Encore Performance?
That being said it won't be all smooth sailing for the Ravens as they play in one of the most competitive divisions in the league, the AFC North. The team boasts not only Super Bowl champs the Ravens but also their biggest rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their games have turned into one of the leagues most hotly contested matchups and definitely one of the highlights on the NFL calendar. History between these two successful teams is bitter with at least one of the two teams advancing to the Conference Championship game or further 4 out of the last 5 years. The Cinncinati Bengals, who have made the playoffs the last two years, are no pushovers either, and though Cleveland round out the division as the weakest of the 4 they have been known to cause an upset or two. Overall the Ravens seem to be as strong as ever, and seem well equipped to defend their crown this year. Despite the loss of so many key players in the offseason the Ravens seem to have come out more balanced as a result with a good mixture of depth and star talent on both sides of the roster. The coaching staff and front office are excellent and have been proven to succeed at the highest level. The biggest question mark remains whether the team can move on from the Ray Lewis era and make a smooth transition into the next chapter in Baltimore history. A lot of this rests on Joe Flacco's shoulders and how he not only handles his new role as face of the franchise, but also the added responsibility of being a leader. If he steps up and embraces this responsibility look for the Ravens to be competitive straight away, if however Joe isn't up for the task, it could be a sticky few years for the Ravens faithful.