Baltimore Ravens Could Be Kings of AFC in 2013
Who Stands in the Ravens' Way of Repeating in 2013?
Four months ago, the 2012 Super Bowl champs traded their best and most reliable wide receiver to the very team they had contested for the crown. Though it seemed drastic and detrimental at the time, it was merely the beginning of a dramatic roster turnover that would result in the loss of multiple key contributors to their near-magical postseason run. Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired. Ed Reed went to the Houston Texans. Paul Kruger went to the Cleveland Browns. Dannell Ellerbe went to the Miami Dolphins. Cary Williams went to the Philadelphia Eagles. Bernard Pollard was cut and subsequently signed by the Tennessee Titans. Vonta Leech is the most recent stud to have been released. For a while, Ozzie Newsome appeared to be captaining a sinking ship with no obvious plan for how to prevent it from going under.
The repairs started slowly, with the signings of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears to shore up the weakened defensive line. Then came arguably the biggest free agency splash of the year with the signing of Elvis Dumervil, which was quickly followed by the much-applauded signing of Michael Huff. Daryl Smith was later added to add linebacker depth. By the time the draft rolled around, there were only a few positions left that needed attention, and most of them were adequately addressed. The only question that lingers at his point is how the Ravens' receiving corp will look.
While the Baltimore Ravens have undergone the some of the most changes amongst AFC teams, they already seem to have quelled many of those who doubted their ability to contend for another Lomdardi Torphy. When I look ahead to the 2013 season, I see a lot of question marks still looming in the AFC. The Ravens certainly have their share, but they seem easier to trust when pitted against most other conference rivals.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will always be seen as Baltimore's primary foe, but question marks surrounding both the offense and the defense keep them from being an obvious pick to dethrone the Ravens. Ben Roethlisberger hasn't played a full, injury-free season since 2008 (which happened to be the last time the Steelers won the Superbowl), the receiving corps is in question and the defense is the oldest in the league.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots lost four key offensive weapons (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez), and that's not even including Rob Gronkowski's fluid situation due to his multiple offseason surgeries. Even if Danny Amendola can stay healthy for a full season (which is questionable), reproducing Welker's magic is a tall order.
The Houston Texans have risen as a formidable opponent in the past couple of seasons, but concerns regarding Matt Schaub's reliability, a limited offense and the defense's inability to stop explosive offenses such as the Green Bay Packers and the aforementioned Patriots keep them in the unproven category.
The Cincinnati Bengals appear to be primed for a run at the AFC title, but they still need to win their division (and a playoff game) before they can be taken seriously as a contender.
The Indianapolis Colts made an impressive comeback season in 2012, but duplicating that success will be tough in 2013. They're still too young to be anything more than a nuisance at this point.
The Denver Broncos stand the best chance at competing with Baltimore for the AFC. They have a stout defense (despite losing Elvis Dumervil), a re-tooled offense and one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. They also have more reason than any other team to serve extra cold revenge to the Ravens after suffering a stunning home defeat to them the same year they were the favorites to win the AFC.