#4 – Tom Brady (NE) – Maybe this is an indictment of the list in general, or maybe it’s an indication of just how scary the Ravens’ schedule is in 2012. Tom Brady is arguably the greatest QB ever, and is coming off of a Super Bowl season. The Ravens have actually done an adequate job of containing him (statistically) throughout his career, but he’s still Tom Brady and he still finds a way to win more often than not. He’ll also likely be a completely different animal vs. the Ravens in 2012 without his nemesis Terrell Suggs crashing from the left side of the offense.
#3 – Michael Vick (PHI) – After failing to live up to the title of “Dream Team” last year, Vick came back in 2012 and declared the Eagles a budding dynasty. In order to earn that title they’ll have to actually win when it counts, and Vick will have to play a full season (you’d imagine). It’s probably worth mentioning that while generally wreaking havoc on the rest of the league, Vick has struggled to find opportunities vs. the Ravens, but against a player of his type containing the edges is paramount. This might be the Ravens first and biggest test of the defensive edge sans Suggs and Jarret Johnson in 2012.
#2 – Rob Gronkowski (NE) – For as long as they are in the league together, Ravens fans will always make comparisons between Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta vs. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Based on the early returns it’s a landslide in the favor of the Patriots’ tight ends. Gronkowski, prior to launching a worldwide media tour this off-season set the standard as the new prototypical touchdown catcher in the league during the season. The Ravens did an adequate job of containing him last year, but they might be the only team that did. At his best Gronkowski exploits the parts of the field that teams struggle to defend the most, the air over top of it.
#1 – AJ Green (CIN) – In spite of all odds and the absence of any semblance of an off-season, last year’s crop of rookie wide receivers may have been the best the NFL has seen, and no rookie pass catcher was more impressive that Green. He has the size, speed and explosiveness that remind many of a young Randy Moss, and while impressive last year may have done it mostly on athleticism. Given a full, real off-season to learn and refine his craft, Green should be giving the Ravens and their fans nightmares for seasons to come. Oh by the way…they’ll have to deal with him at least twice next year and every season thereafter.