Baltimore’s rookies have officially reported to training camp at the team’s facility in Owings Mills, Maryland, and the veterans are just a couple of days away from joining them on a quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Winning the Super Bowl is a tough task to complete, which makes repeating as Super Bowl champs twice as tough as Baltimore will have a huge target on their back heading into the 2013 regular season. Here are a couple of bold predictions and things to expect from Baltimore this season:
*Joe Flacco Records Career-highs in Passing Yards and Touchdowns
After signing his then-record-setting contract extension this past off-season, just about a month after winning Super Bowl MVP, Flacco has finally gotten the monkey off his back. Now that he’s financially set, you’d think he’d have less pressure to perform and can just sit back and throw touchdown passes. He’s a proven winner and at 28 years of age it appears he’s still got several more seasons of solid play for Baltimore. If a few of his receivers step their games up, there’s no doubt 2013 has the potential to be his most successful season stat-wise.
*Bernard Pierce Becomes Biggest Piece to Baltimore’s 3rd Down Offense
Though the carries will not be split 50/50 between Pro Bowler Ray Rice and second-year Temple alum Bernard Pierce as was originally stated earlier this off-season, Pierce is still poised to become a vital part in John Harbaugh’s offense. Pierce, in his limited role as a rookie, was incredibly effective with the ball in his hands and has the potential to see a lot of playing time in order to keep Rice’s legs fresh. In 2011 veteran running back Ricky Williams saw 108 carries behind Rice, but you can expect Pierce to see much closer to 150 carries and a couple of touchdowns as the team’s primary third down back.
*Dennis Pitta Emerges as Top 5 AFC Tight End
In his third professional season for the Ravens last season, Pitta’s career-highs improved drastically. His 61 receptions, 669 yards and 7 touchdowns were good enough for 2nd (tied with Ray Rice), 3rd and 2nd among his teammates, respectively. The loss of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin will allow for the 6’4″/245 pound tight end to see more targets from his quarterback. Not to mention the fact that Flacco will likely see even more control over the offense, and will be able to air it out more than he ever has after last postseason’s performance. No more Boldin and more confidence from Flacco equals a career season from Pitta.
*Rookie Arthur Brown Leads Team in Tackles
Obviously replacing future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis is not an easy task, and second round selection Arthur Brown will have a lot of pressure on him to perform right from the get-go. But the drafting of Brown with the No. 56 overall pick was a very smart choice and he will be able to make an immediate impact on Harbaugh’s revamped defense. Brown was a tackling machine in his K-State days, posting two consecutive seasons with 100+ total tackles in his junior and senior seasons. The losses of linebackers Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe up the middle opens the door for the rookie to start from Day 1 in Baltimore, and he’ll be a key piece on defense.
*Houston Safety Ed Reed Records a Pick-Six Against Baltimore
Okay, so maybe this isn’t a positive prediction for the Ravens, but the home match-up between Houston and Baltimore on September 23 will obviously be a big deal. Not only is that the day that Ray Lewis will be inducted into Baltimore’s Ring of Honor, but it’s also when the franchise’s best free safety of all-time will make his return to M&T Bank Stadium after winning the Super Bowl with the team last year. It’ll be a highly-anticipated game for both sides, and in honor of his Baltimore playing days it’s only fair for Reed to record a pick-six against his former team. And I’m sure it would be tough for Baltimore fans to be mad at him for doing so, right?
*Baltimore Returns to Postseason, but Not as AFC North Champions
Like I stated before, it’s tough to repeat and Baltimore will be seeing the best of every team they play. And with a very young and talented team on the rise within their division––the Cincinnati Bengals––I can’t say that the Ravens will even be able to repeat as champions of the North. Expect a solid season both offensively and defensively, but Cincinnati is a very talented and overlooked squad that will need to be taken seriously in 2013. Baltimore will be in the postseason for the sixth consecutive season in 2013, but not as division champions.
The Baltimore Ravens will not be able to pull off the rare Super Bowl repeat, but that will not take away from the success that coach Harbaugh and Flacco will see in their sixth season together. The 2013 season will end with Baltimore posting its 11th winning season in its 18-year history.