If asked to characterize the general state of mind of Ravens fans in these long months between seasons, I would go with something along the lines of, hm, let's see … how about dubious?
They'd like to think things will get better in 2018 after three straight non-playoff seasons, but they have doubts.
They're not alone. According to Bovada, the Las Vegas sports book, the Ravens' chances of winning Super Bowl 54 have gone down since free agency began last week. They were listed at 40-1 before the shopping season opened; now they're 50-1. Not a ringing endorsement.
The basis for this skepticism isn't a secret. The Ravens offense has underperformed for a few years. The defense has yielded at key moments. Although the team won nine games in 2017, it benefitted from a forgiving schedule.
Amid this chorus of uncertainty, though, a few people are singing a different tune – a sunnier ditty, or at least, more optimistic about what might lie ahead.
Those people are the Ravens' decision-makers themselves. It took some sleuthing for me to confirm they do, indeed, feel better about the future than others, but yes, I believe that's the case.
My ah-ha moment took place as GM Ozzie Newsome introduced receiver John Brown to the media last week. Without prompting, he explained how the signing fit into the big picture.
"If you dial back to a year ago, we talked about wanting to get our defense stronger, and we did that. Then we said that we wanted to run the football, and we were able to do that. Well, the next piece is to get a better passing game," Newsome said.
To me, it sure sounded as if the Ravens believe they're in the midst of a process, a methodical undertaking that began after the team's second straight non-winning season in 2016. It seems a course of recovery was charted, a process designed, and the Ravens feel they're fairly far along with it.
Improve the defense? Check. After two offseasons of draft and free agency investments, the Ravens ranked No. 6 in scoring defense and led the league in takeaways in 2017.
Improve the running game? Check. After hiring Greg Roman and finding a No. 1 back on the waiver wire, the Ravens rose from No. 28 in the league in 2016 to No. 11 in 2017.
Checking those boxes didn't produce a playoff trip last season, but listening to Newsome and others in the front office, it sure sounds as if they believe they can get there if they check this last box and improve their passing game, which ranked No. 29 in 2017.
"Having a strong running game, with pass protection, if we give Joe some weapons (and) improve in the passing game, then maybe that will be enough to help us get over that hump; those one or two games that we need to win in order to get us into the playoffs," Newsome said.
No one is saying that improving the passing game will be easy. Michael Crabtree's addition helps, but the Ravens need more wide receivers and a tight end who gets downfield – big pieces. They also need quarterback Joe Flacco to play better. Meanwhile, a tight salary cap limits their options, and other roster issues need addressing.
Nonetheless, it seems they believe they're one big-picture fix away, which isn't that much, relatively speaking. And they're clearly on the case, intent on rolling out a new cast of playmakers.
"Last year and the year before, we allocated a lot of resources to the defense. We feel good about where the defense is. Offensively, last year, we were not what we want to be, so we have to address that," Assistant GM Eric DeCosta told Ryan Mink and Garrett Downing on "The Lounge" podcast earlier this week.
I'm sure some will say the decision-makers should feel good about the roster, which, after all, is their creation, reflective of their judgment. Fair enough. But Newsome has never been one for inflated expectations. He's always been a realist. And he seems to think the team isn't that far away from a good place.
That might not match the popular Ravens storyline circulating in the public realm, but what we're dealing with here, I do believe, is a difference of opinion.