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Baltimore Ravens season preview: Back to playoffs

*Around The NFL's season preview jumps to the AFC North. *

Change we can believe in

The early returns on new play-caller Gary Kubiak are encouraging. Look for the former Texans coach to roll out a scheme centered on a revived ground game and Joe Flacco's better traits through the air. The addition of Steve Smith gives the Ravens a veteran wideout who can win one-on-one battles and help unleash Torrey Smith as the scheme's natural deep threat.

Sacked 48 times in 2013, Flacco looms as a lock to tone down his 22 picks from last season behind improved protection. New starting center Jeremy Zuttah won't be mistaken for Alex Mack, but he's a distinct upgrade over Gino Gradkowski. He'll team with guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda to give the Ravens a stronger interior line that should open up the ground game. Bernard Pierce is healthy and running with purpose, while a slimmed-down Ray Rice appears headed for a bounce-back year.

Last year's sleep-inducing offense will be an easier watch in 2014.

Biggest concern

The interior O-line has promise, but the Ravens could use an upgrade at right tackle. Ricky Wagner -- last year's fifth-round pick -- has been named the starter after Baltimore failed to address the position in the draft or free agency. Without an NFL start, Wagner is an untested commodity whom coach John Harbaugh would call no more than "solid" -- which is still more than we saw from Michael Oher last autumn.

Notable Madden ratings


The secondary is an injury away from potential disaster. With Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson all missing time this summer, Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks have given up plays in practice and preseason games. We also need to see more from second-year backstop Matt Elam, who potentially benefits from flipping over to his natural position at strong safety.

Training camp surprise

Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley has been a revelation, showing a comfort level that left inside linebackers coach Don "Wink" Martindale to boast that "it seems like he's been here three years." Mosley has shown well in preseason action, generating inside pressure and disrupting passers alongside veteran Daryl Smith. Mosley looks like another gem for general manager Ozzie Newsome.

What we'll be saying in February

We'll be asking if Gary Kubiak deserves another head-coaching opportunity after guiding Baltimore's offense back to the AFC playoffs.

Predicted finish: Second place in AFC North, 11th in Around The NFL's Power Index.

The latest "Around the League Podcast" talks quarterback battles and debates the gang's preseason power rankings.

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