So…this is what it’s like to go into the season with real, legitimate championship hopes?
The view sure is good from here.
Robbed of that hope by the baseball team for, oh, I don’t know, going on 12 seasons now, we football fans in Baltimore can sit back and enjoy the next 13 days as the Ravens prepare for what sets up to be the most promising NFL season in nearly a decade. Last night’s pre-season win in Carolina summarized the ’09 squad for what it is: we have a legitimate, Pro-Bowl quality (someday) quarterback, a diverse running game with a very solid offensive line to compliment, and a rock solid defense led by the best middle linebacker of this generation and a coaching staff full of fundamentals, tricks and discipline.
We haven’t gone into a season thinking this highly of our chances since 2001.
In ’01, the Ravens were coming off of a Super Bowl triumph, had re-tooled with a Pro Bowl quarterback, and expectations were sky high going into the campaign. A pre-season injury to Jamal Lewis squelched any real repeat-threat and the season ended with Elvis Grbac and the Ravens getting humbled in Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
The ’06 campaign – Steve McNair’s first in Baltimore – was certainly highly anticipated — but not many folks thought the Ravens were a Super Bowl caliber team heading into the regular season.
This club? If all the things go right that need to go right, this Ravens team is Super Bowl worthy.
Yes, there’s a long way to go. Yes, yes…it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The club’s fortunes are absolutely directly tied to the health of Joe Flacco, sure.
But I see this ’09 edition of John Harbaugh’s team being an extremely tough team to beat week in and week out as long as the prominent players stay healthy.
For the first time in – forever, maybe? – the team enters the season EXCITED about its quarterback play. This time last year, Kyle Boller was injured, Troy Smith had a sore throat and the first year signal caller from some “small school in Delaware” was going to be behind center to start the season. Not many people expected 11-5 and a trip to the AFC title game…probably not even the Ravens themselves, honestly.
But Flacco came on like gangbusters in ’08 and now, entering his 2nd season, he’s really starting to show the poise and promise that coincided with his 1st round selection by Ozzie and Eric DeCosta in last spring’s draft.
Even with a B-team gathering of wide receivers, Flacco appears like he just might be able to make a helluva chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what.
If he can, watch out.
The Ravens’ schedule is challenging, but not overwhelming by any means. Outside of their AFC North opponents (they’ll go 4-2 in those 6 games), they have four tough games — and three of them are away and one is home. They’ll play in San Diego, Minnesota and New England — and host Indianapolis. Three of those four were playoff teams a year ago and the Patriots were probably better than all of those teams and missed the playoffs despite going 11-5. I’d call it a “7.5” schedule on the 1-to-10 scale of difficulty.
This is a Ravens team fully capable of duplicating their 11-5 campaign of a year ago and, with good health and good fortune, they could maneuver into the 12 or 13 win range.
It’s so much fun to enter the season actually EXPECTING the local team to be in the hunt.
That sets us up for a big letdown if the ball doesn’t bounce our way like it didn’t back on January 13, 2007 when the Colts came to town and sent us packing from the post-season.
But it’s better to be letdown in the post-season than in spring training, which has been the case with “the other team in town” over the last 12 years.
I’m officially “ready for some football” and I’m more confident than I’ve been in a long time that this year could, perhaps, create some very special memories for all of us.
This is Birdland is Ravenstown.
Bring on the Chiefs.