Four of the Baltimore Ravens‘ games will be against the AFC East in 2013, pitting them against three teams in the process of rebuilding and a dynasty attempting to overcome a turbulent offseason.
The Buffalo Bills are hitting the reset button with a new head coach, a new general manager and a new quarterback. The Miami Dolphins are entering year two of a promising rebuilding campaign under Joe Philbin and Jeff Ireland.
The New England Patriots have lost several key weapons, including Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead. The New York Jets are primed for a magnificently bad season after hemorrhaging several key playmakers that helped keep the team afloat during its embarrassing 2012 season.
The Ravens kick off their tour of the AFC East by heading to Ralph Wilson Stadium to take on the Bills, who should be easy prey for the Super Bowl champs. Dean Pees‘s blitz-happy defense will mercilessly pick on rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, while the Lardarius Webb-led secondary will funnel most of the passing to Stevie Johnson.
Baltimore’s offensive line will have their work cut for them, as Buffalo’s defensive line will be out for Joe Flacco‘s $120 million blood. Free agent acquisition Manny Lawson could limit Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce as well, which could force Jim Caldwell to rely on the passing game.
The very next week, the Ravens travel all the way to Miami, where they will play quite possibly the toughest game out of these four. The Dolphins did back strokes in the free agency pool, signing Mike Wallace, Brent Grimes, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller. Rookie defensive end Dion Jordon was added to an already-formidable defensive line, which could bump it up into scary territory.
The Terrell Suggs–Elvis Dumervil tandem could be the key to this game due to Miami’s shaky offensive line. Either way, John Harbaugh and co. will have to put in extra time to pull this one out.
The Jets have the misfortune of playing at M&T Bank Stadium a week after the Ravens play a tough game against the Chicago Bears. Whether they beat the Bears or not, the Ravens will relish in the opportunity to put on a show for their fans.
It’s tough to envision a scenario in which New York has the upper hand in any facet of this game. They no longer have Yeremiah Bell, Mike DeVito, LaRon Landry, Dustin Keller, or Shonn Greene. Antwan Barnes and Willie Colon could prove to be factors in this game, but there’s a good chance the injury bug will have bitten them both yet again this deep into November.
First-round pick Sheldon Richardson might make some noise, but it probably won’t make much of an impact. The uncertainty at both quarterback and running back makes the notion of a functional Jets offense laughable at this point. The Ravens could (and should) win this one by double digits.
The season rounds out to an end with the second consecutive AFC Championship rematch against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at home.
Whatever complications brought on by the massive offensive makeover will have been long since figured out by this point in the season. The Ravens have won the past two matchups against their newest rivals, including last season’s Conference Championship, so the Patriots will be looking to serve up some chilly revenge.
The secondary has added Aquib Talib and Adrian Wilson since Flacco torched it in late January, and Baltimore won’t have Anquan Boldin or Dennis Pitta to torture them with. There is no telling who Brady will be throwing to by that time, as Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola have consistently proven to be injury prone.
This game could come down to something as simple as how effectively the Ravens’ new defense limits Brady.