The Baltimore Ravens just enjoyed a magical run to the Super Bowl XLVII title. Inherently, they're doomed for next season, right? Of the past seven Super Bowl champions, not a single one logged a postseason victory in the ensuing title defense. In fact, three of those seven teams missed the playoffs altogether.
So, what is your early impression of the Ravens for the 2013 season: true contenders or ill-fated title defenders?
I know what history says, but that doesn't make me believe the Ravens will be out of the playoff picture next season. Will they win it all? Who knows? But their personal history shows they'll be strong enough to be right in the mix in 2013.
Thanks to general manager Ozzie Newsome and friends, the Ravens' infrastructure is so strong that they can withstand the emotional battle of trying to repeat while being the hunted. In addition, 2012 was actually a transitional year in many ways. Baltimore's aging defense moved away from guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, embracing the play of youngsters like Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger. This defense will be on the upswing, and Joe Flacco will do nothing but improve. Yeah, they'll be back.
Every year, we say the same thing about the Super Bowl champion ...
"Look how they're set up for a huge run of excellence! Their quarterback has arrived and/or continues to be elite. They have weapons across the board and a defense that's built to last," and yada, yada, yada.
But the fact remains: It was a magical run, full of fourth-and-29s, Hail Mary bombs that were misplayed and poor play calling by the opposition (namely, Greg Roman at the end of Super Bowl XLVII). That doesn't happen twice in a row, unless you're playing the San Diego Chargers for all 16 games and the playoffs.
The Ravens are losing Ray Lewis and maybe Ed Reed (who personally saved six points on Sunday). And it's possible Ray Rice is slowing down. They were a true "team of destiny" this season. But in the big picture, they're built more like the New York Giants than they are like a dynasty: a team that is a perennial playoff participant, one that can make a deep run to the Super Bowl every few years.
I believe the Ravens are well situated to sustain their success. They will need to replace a few parts on defense, but that unit will be bolstered by the healthy return of cornerback Lardarius Webb. He is the most talented secondary player on their roster. They will also benefit from having Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata 100 percent healthy, as both battled through an injury-plagued 2012.
The offensive nucleus is very young and talented. Baltimore boasts excellent depth at wide receiver, running back and tight end. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco is just entering his prime, and the offensive line will return three key starters. The Ravens are clearly the most talented team in the AFC North, and the rest of the conference lacks the overall depth of the NFC.
The Ravens have been a consistent winner under John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome. I don't see that changing. I think Joe Flacco will take another step in his performance next year. The offense will still be the main strength of the team, but the defense will be solid. Terrell Suggs will get back to Pro Bowl form.
I don't see them making the Super Bowl next year because it is so hard to do -- especially in back-to-back years -- but I see them making the playoffs.
The Ravens' run to the Super Bowl struck a similar chord to what the Giants did the previous season -- where a couple of breaks during the regular season helped contribute to a championship run. And like the Giants, the Ravens could be due for a post-Super Bowl hangover.
But the Ravens have been the most consistent team in the NFL during John Harbaugh's tenure, and there is no reason to believe they won't be in the mix again. Baltimore's championship is merely hours old, and we're already looking for reasons why the Ravens can't compete for the title next year. That just motivates them. So even though they play in a tough division with the rising Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens are in a good spot to make another run through the playoffs next season.