2014 Super Bowl Handicapping: Can Ravens Repeat?
by Trevor Whenham - 2/4/2013
I have written a whole lot of articles over the years. Thousands. This one could be the shortest one yet. Will the Ravens win the Super Bowl again next year? No. I could leave it there, and I am pretty confident that I would be right. Since I have the time, though — football doesn’t start up for seven months after all — I’ll go a little deeper. The Ravens are going to be very hard pressed to repeat their hard earned Super Bowl next year because of at least five reasons:
Repeating is very tough
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We have learned how hard it is to recapture glory in recent years. Our last repeat winner was the Patriots in 2004 and 2005. Since then we haven’t even seen a team in the game twice in a row. As has been the trend lately, the Ravens were far from a top seed heading into the playoffs. They earned their title beating very tough teams and deserve nothing but respect for that, but teams that repeat need to be dominant and consistent. The Ravens, over the longer term, have been neither.
Joe Flacco took one of the biggest gambles in recent sports memory when he decided to let his contract run out instead of settling for what he could get before the season. Now he’s a free agent coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance, and he’s going to be a very rich man. He said right after the game that he wants to be a Raven for life, and even though reality will set in after the glow of the game passes I don’t have any trouble believing him as long as the price is right. The team has to get that done, though, and find a way to make a $20 million dollar a year price tag fit within their salary cap without costing them too badly. If and when they do get him signed, they have to hope that he has the mental makeup to handle the pressure of being one of the highest paid players in the league. The team also has to hope that he performs like the guy who was wildly impressive in the playoffs and not the guy who was just middle-of-the-pack for much of the season. Remember, back in October there were a lot of fans in Baltimore who wouldn’t have shed a tear if Flacco had been benched. When the Patriots repeated they had Tom Brady. The Broncos did it with Elway. Flacco still has to prove that he can perform at that level when he’s paid at that level.
Heart transplant required
Ray Lewis hasn’t been the player over the last couple of years that he once was, but he has been the heart and soul of this defense — and this team — for 17 years. Flacco is a quiet guy, so Lewis has filled the role of being the emotional driving force. Now he’s gone, and the team has to deal with that. They have shown they can do it when he is injured, but they knew then that he was coming back. Now he’s gone for good. Ed Reed is likely gone as well as he seems determined to finish things out somewhere else. Losing those two would mean losing the identity of the defense. Not insurmountable — especially for a team with as many other characters on defense as this team has — but it is certainly a reason for concern.
Novelty factor gone
A good deal of this Super Bowl Championship can be traced back to Dec. 10. That’s when Cam Cameron was fired and replaced as offensive coordinator by Jim Caldwell. He provided a different spark and a different focus, and that turned a struggling team into an unbeatable one. Caldwell has obviously been named the full-time coordinator now, but he faces a much different challenge working with the team through the offseason and into next year than he did taking over midseason and making a few tweaks. I’m not suggesting that he can’t do a good job, but it is a reason for uncertainty. With the Ravens already bet down to 12/1 to win the Super Bowl again next year, there isn’t much room for uncertainty if you like value.
AFC lacked stamina
It was a weird year for the AFC this year. Throughout much of the season it looked deep and dangerous. When things started to matter, though, the strength suddenly dissolved. Houston was a disaster late in the season, and they weren’t impressive in the playoffs. New England was out of gas by the AFC Championship. Indianapolis obviously wasn’t yet ready for primetime. Something wasn’t right with Peyton Manning in the playoffs, and that was a big hit for the Broncos. Baltimore looked as good as they did in the playoffs partly because they played very well, but also because they didn’t take a step backward when so many key contenders did. You can’t count on that happening again next year.
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