On Thursday evening, the Baltimore Ravens will kick off the season against the Denver Broncos. As the reigning Super Bowl champ, there’s always an expectation and scrutiny in the following season. For the Ravens, they enter 2013 with a new look after losing veteran players, causing rumblings of a potential regression.
With the losses of veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, wide receiver Anquan Boldin, tight end Dennis Pitta and even safety Ed Reed, can the Ravens even compete for the AFC North title?
I wouldn’t give up hope yet.
A look at this 2013 team has nine 2012 starters gone; seven come from the defense. Lewis sits at the top of the conversation not only because his play will be missed but also his leadership. There have been some good additions that should give the team and its fans hope.
Linebacker Daryl Smith will attempt to fill part of the void left by Lewis. He has less name recognition, but the former Jacksonville Jaguar entered the league in 2004 and sits as the Jaguar’s all-time leader in career tackles at 1,096.
He has a one-year, $1.25 deal with the Ravens and he will be joined by the rookie linebacker, Arthur Brown.
Linebacker Paul Krueger is also gone but the Ravens have hopes former Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil can step in his place. Dumervil, who has 37.5 sacks since 2009 (sans 2010’s missed season) from his days with the Broncos. In March, he signed a five-year, $35 million contract after his fax snafu.
There’s still secondary depth with veteran safety James Ihedigbo and his rookie safety teammate Matt Elam comes with high expectations.
Without Lewis and Ed Reed, look for new leaders to emerge including Terrell Suggs. This new defense is also seen as faster and more athletic.
Then we have the offense. The void needs to be filled in Boldin’s absence. Torrey Smith will be the No. 1 wide receiver with Tandon Doss, Jacoby Jones and Deonte Thompson competing for playing time opposite Smith.
Veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley has returned to the Ravens after spending last season with the Broncos and he’ll be reunited with his former Indianapolis Colts teammate, tight end Dallas Clark, who signed with the team a few weeks ago after Pitta went down.
This should be interesting to see the two play against former quarterback Peyton Manning.
As for Pitta, he has been placed in injured reserve with a designation to return. In his absence, the team re-signed former Raven Billy Bajema. Factor in fellow tight end Ed Dickson as well as Clark and there’s some nice depth.
The team’s running back corp. is solid with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Quarterback Joe Flacco, who got a hefty pay raise in the season, is a field general with great weapons. He’ll also likely step up as more of a leader and look for his play to continue improving as he enters his sixth season in the league.
And last but not least, the Ravens have a great coach at the helm with confident John Harbaugh. Since taking over in 2008, he has taken his team to the playoffs every year, has coached three AFC championship games and has grabbed a highly coveted Super Bowl ring.
Harbaugh’s overall record is 63-30.
The Ravens like to play under the radar (28/1 to win the 2014 Super Bowl) and just grab wins as they go along. Don’t expect this to change in 2013. They could surprise everyone. Again.