|Kevin Terrell/Associated Press|
|Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles during a standout 2011 campaign.|
Terrell Suggs might be out for the season after tearing his Achilles during offseason workouts. It's a huge blow to the Baltimore Ravens, who now enter 2012 without the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. How does Suggs' injury impact a highly competitive AFC North and the AFC title race as a whole?
Steelers, Bengals just got better with Suggs outThis injury is massive. It puts huge pressure on Joe Flacco and the offense and takes what was already an area of concern for the Ravens -- pass rush -- and makes it an acute weakness.
Suggs and Haloti Ngata are the most dominant players on that defense. Suggs is impossible to replace and the timing of the injury -- after the draft and with free agency bare -- is tough. Youngsters like Sergio Kindle, Paul Kruger and just-drafted Courtney Upshaw must step up. Remaining free agents like Andre Carter and Antwan Odom might make sense when they're healthy.
This was already the best division in football. The Steelers and Bengals just got even better with Suggs out of the equation, and there was already very little separating these three teams.
Suggs' injury hurts, but it's not a death sentence for BaltimoreSuggs is the biggest difference maker on a defense full of them. He's the pass rusher that teams have to account for. The Ravens' cupboard isn't bare, but they must rely on young players like Pernell McPhee, Paul Kruger, Courtney Upshaw and Sergio Kindle to step up.
There is so little separating the top teams in the AFC. Pittsburgh just re-loaded its offensive line and should be better equipped to handle Baltimore's diminished pass rush. This isn't a death sentence, but Suggs' injury makes Baltimore a slight underdog to Pittsburgh and New England in the AFC heading into 2012.
Ravens still a playoff team, but Steelers the favorite in AFC NorthThis is a big blow to the Ravens because Suggs was the one outside rusher you had to game plan for. The Ravens are still a playoff team, but they need to improve on offense. Joe Flacco is still a young QB with an even younger group of receivers.
Pittsburgh now will be the favorite to win the division, but the biggest unknown is if the Steelers' age on defense will begin to show.
Revenge of Belichick? Flacco needs to step upI've long considered Bill Belichick to be some sort of Emperor Palpatine character, so it comes as no surprise to me that just days after John Harbaugh questions Belichick's ethics, the Ravens' star defensive player blows out his Achilles.
The Ravens are going to be in a huge hole with this one. I know teams like to say things like "next man up" and "nobody is bigger than the team," which is true. But when you consider Suggs played in 95 percent of the Ravens' defensive snaps, where can you find that kind of production? Is it going to come from Pernell McPhee or rookie Courtney Upshaw?
The Ravens are going to need it, playing in the toughest division in the NFL. Three teams from the AFC North made the playoffs last year, and Cleveland is getting better, too. So maybe it's time for Joe Flacco to really step up this year, asserting himself and taking some of the pressure off the defense.
Road to Super Bowl still goes through New EnglandLosing Suggs is a huge deal, and I think this makes the AFC North more competitive. Baltimore would have been the overwhelming favorite, considering the Steelers lost many key players and still don't know who their starting running back is going to be Week 1. The Bengals are good, but are they in the Ravens' class? The gap between those teams has narrowed. I still like the Ravens to win the division -- I just like them a little less than I did yesterday.
But as big a blow as that is, the road to the Super Bowl still goes through New England. The Patriots have gotten even better on offense with the additions of Brandon Lloyd and now Jabar Gaffney, two top-25 receivers in terms of production. Throw in their soft schedule, and 13-3 or 14-2 is a likelihood for them. It's a passing league now, and the Patriots do it the best in the AFC.
Despite Suggs' optimism for a midseason return, this is a crippling blowChin up, Charm City: Dr. Suggs says he'll be back by midseason. (Ball So Hard U. must offer pre-med courses...)
Either way, this is obviously a significant loss to the Ravens' defense. I'd rate Suggs as Baltimore's second-most indispensable defender behind Haloti Ngata. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed might be the bigger brand names, but over the last couple seasons, Suggs and Ngata have emerged as the Ravens' defensive lynchpins. An optimist would say Courtney Upshaw, last week's second-round draft pick, will be able to pick up the slack, but replicating Suggs's dominant 2003 Rookie of the Year campaign will be nearly impossible.
Good thing the Ravens still have best quarterback in the league ... Right, Joe Cool?