The Baltimore Ravens defense will probably improve upon last season’s middling mark thanks to a full campaign from Terrell Suggs and a healthy one from Haloti Ngata. Daryl Smith and Michael Huff replacing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed is also likely a huge upgrade given how the latter two were performing in their career twilight.
However, one personnel loss that does strike great uncertainty into my extremely positive Ravens projection is that of tight end Dennis Pitta. The Anquan Boldin exit already pushed it when came to Joe Flacco managing without familiar weapons and now losing Pitta, who those extra targets were headed toward, seems a bit much.
My perception of a weak AFC this year combined with the AFC North failing to show real Super Bowl contenders allows me to dismiss this somewhat and pick Baltimore to defend its AFC North crown. Questions about pass targets keep me from being so bullish to predict a Super Bowl or even AFC title defense, but this unit should be just functional enough on the arm of the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
The veteran quarterback should have less pressure on him than during the recent postseason run, as this line is equipped to bully opponents in the run; the Ray Rice-Bernard Pierce backfield combo is in the conversation for the league’s best. Both are worthy workhorses and a transition to (an even more) run-heavy offense could make up for the fact that their receiving group is Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and not much else.
This complements what I believe to be a top-five defense quite well. Suggs and Elvis Dumervil should each surpass the pass-rush production Paul Kruger gave them last year. It also remains remarkable that Baltimore’s secondary remained decent in 2012 sans Lardarius Webb, arguably the league’s best up-and-coming cornerback before his season-ending injury. With Webb and Suggs back in the fold to join some savvy free agent additions, this could prove Baltimore’s best defensive unit in recent memory.
Predicted Regular Season Record: 12-4 (1st in AFC North)
Predicted Finish: Loss in divisional round vs. New England Patriots