NFL 2014 Preview: The Baltimore Ravens

Terrell Suggs. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Baltimore Ravens.

Last year’s record: 8-8

Coach: John Harbaugh

2014 is about… Putting the ghosts of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed firmly in the past. The two future Hall of Famers were responsible for the organization’s finest moments since it arrived in Baltimore in 1996, and their departure left a big void. Joe Flacco had a rough first season in their absence, throwing 22 picks and completing just 59 percent of his passes, not coming anywhere close to justifying his huge-money extension that came on the heels of the 2013 Super Bowl win. Though his cap hit leaps to nearly $15 million this season, now he’s got a new offensive coordinator (Gary Kubiak) and a new system to work in. Might as well be a clean slate—all he’s got to do is take advantage of it.

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Core players: Flacco (QB), Haloti Ngata (DE), and, of course, “Hacksaw, Ball So Hard University” (LB):

But they lost… Arthur Jones (DT), also known as MMA star Jon “Bones” Jones’s brother, came along slowly in Baltimore but developed into a rock on the defensive line, and replacing him from within won’t be easy. Also gone is Michael Oher (OT), the guy whose story was made famous in The Blind Side (both the book and the movie) and who will never be mentioned again without The Blind Side coming up.

Yeah, but they got… Steve Smith (WR). Last season they lost Anquan Boldin to the NFC—a move, or lack thereof, that hurt more than anyone expected—and this season they steal Smith back from it. The five-foot-nine, 35-year-old Smith has been targeted over 100 times in each season since the NFL started tracking targets, and still has value as a No. 2 wideout. Also, C.J. Mosley (LB) was drafted 17th overall and could be the guy to fill Lewis’s shoes—but can he make an impact in Year One?

Growing from within: Torrey Smith (WR, no relation to Steve) is just 24 and last season posted career highs in targets, receptions and yards while maintaining a whopping 17.4 yards per reception, providing one of the bright spots from 2013. (Also, an aside: If the Ravens don’t issue a “Mr. and Mr. Smith” poster in the vein of this at some point early this season, their marketing department is asleep at the wheel at the bottom of a ravine.)

Why this team? Because even without Lewis and Reed they’ve got a strong team personality (it’s a kind of collective cantankerousness, but that’s better than you get from most teams). Or because you liked The Wire, maybe.

Why not? Because the team is aging quickly without a lot of youth in the pipeline. Or because Flacco is the most boring lead guy in the history of the NFL (even his dad thinks he’s dull). Or because, you know, Ray Rice:

Perfect for fans of… Gothic poetry.

How much hope? 6/10. Big cap figures for Flacco and Ngata left the Ravens with little money to splash out on filling holes in free agency, and their ceiling is probably second place in the division and a wild-card berth. That would be a big win for a team like the Bills, but won’t feel like much for a capped-out squad two years removed from a Super Bowl win.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Doubtful. That Super Bowl win somehow already feels like it was 100 years ago.

A Meme To Remember: Flaccoing, a kind of planking but with a greater sense of despair. Some things just age better than others.

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