A few years ago, the Ravens were an on-and-off team. They would be a contender one year and come nowhere close the next year.
Even when they competed, they were never really in the hunt for a championship. So, they hired John Harbaugh, drafted Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith and Ray Rice and traded for Anquan Boldin.
Thanks to those moves, the Ravens have been seriously in the mix for a championship every year. However, this year, the Ravens have been overshadowed by some other AFC teams.
Last year, the Ravens won the AFC North and held off the Texans 20-13 in the divisional playoffs. In the AFC Championship game, they were a dropped pass away from beating New England away from home and advancing to Super Bowl XLVI.
However, a few things during the AFC Championship didn't go their way. As a result, they have to wait for the 2012 season.
Even though the Ravens came very close to winning the AFC, a lot of people see them losing early in the playoffs or even missing the playoffs altogether. Houston has a great defense and arguably the NFL's best running back in Arian Foster. New England signed Brandon Lloyd, and as always, they are in the mix.
Since the Broncos made the second round last year and added Peyton Manning this offseason, you have to throw them in. Oh, and the Steelers have to be in the mix with Ben Roethlisberger and a great defense.
Because of all the speculation about these teams, the Ravens seem to be the forgotten one.
Even though they have Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb and Terrell Suggs (once he recovers from his injury), a lot of people think the defense is too old and won't be able to stop top offenses. Pittsburgh and Houston have great defenses, and they seem to be getting more attention.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens are doubted as well. Joe Flacco thinks he is the best quarterback in the NFL, but he's not. However, he is still a top-15 quarterback who is capable of leading his team to a Super Bowl. Even though he is good, he is and will always be overshadowed by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and the top AFC quarterbacks.
Flacco has a good offense around him, but the receivers, running backs and tight ends are also underrated. Since the Patriots have Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Baltimore's duo of Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta seems to be forgotten.
And wide receivers Andre Johnson (Texans) and Brandon Lloyd (Patriots) make the speedy Torrey Smith and the sure-handed Anquan Boldin completely left out of discussions about elite wide receivers.
While the Ravens have a top-five running back in Ray Rice, he has been overshadowed by Arian Foster and even Maurice Jones-Drew. Rice has great vision and can break tackles, and he is a threat to catch passes out of the backfield. He rounds out the offense very well and gives the team a huge boost.
A lot of teams have stars at some positions and liabilities at others, but the Ravens are balanced. On defense, Lardarius Webb and Ed Reed stop the aerial attack, Ray Lewis plugs up the middle and Haloti Ngata gets to the quarterback.
On offense, Joe Flacco throws touchdowns, Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson and Anquan Boldin catch passes and Ray Rice runs through any hole the offensive line opens up for him.
The Ravens have a very solid team, and now that they have won a playoff game in each of the last four years and made the AFC Championship twice, they should have the experience necessary to make the Super Bowl.
While some people may believe other teams are more talented, the Ravens are much more well-rounded. They don't have any major weaknesses, and even though the offensive line and the defense is made up of older players, the players still have a lot in the tank.
Things will have to happen for Baltimore to take home the elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy, but if all the pieces come into place and the players continue to play like they have, it is very possible.
And that's why the "old" and "washed up" Ravens will contend once again in 2012.
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