Here's a question to debate as the Ravens open training camp this week, less than six months after winning the Super Bowl: What are appropriate expectations for them in 2013?
Nationally, it seems few analysts are giving them much of a shot to repeat; they're still considered contenders, but the major sports books list their Super Bowl odds at around 20-1, trailing the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and New England Patriots in the AFC. That's bound to upset some fans, but it's really no surprise considering icons Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone, the team could have nine new starters and it's been eight years since a Super Bowl winner captured a playoff game the next year. That's a lot of math.
But while expectations around the country are modest, expectations around Baltimore seem as high as ever. It could be argued that Ravens fans shouldn't expect anything after a five-year run that has included five trips to the playoffs, three AFC title-game appearances and a Super Bowl triumph -- that's more success than many teams experience over decades. But that success has generated an abiding faith in the organization's ability to put a contender on the field, so there's excitement about what could happen in 2013, and expectations come with that excitement. The Ravens wouldn't want it any other way, having stated that their goal is to consistently compete.
Amid that swirl of thoughts, trends and conflicting opinions, where lies the sweet spot for what's truly fair to expect of them in 2013?
For starters, I would argue that it's unfair to expect them to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
That doesn't mean they won't, and some fans are bound to expect it, especially after quarterback Joe Flacco signed his mega-deal in the offseason. But that's ridiculous. Winning a Super Bowl is hard. It takes fortunate timing and luck as well as talent, as the Ravens can attest after sweeping through the postseason as a No. 4 seed. No matter how good you might be, sometimes you need the stars to align, and it's hard to know or control when that might happen.
My belief is that it's unfair to expect any team to win a Super Bowl in any season, no matter how good the team … that's how hard it is to do in a league so evenly balanced and wildly unpredictable.
The most you should rightfully expect is for your team to put itself in position to win often enough to give itself a fighting chance to go all the way, as the Ravens have done for five straight years.
But at the same time, I don't think it is right to give the Ravens a pass in 2013 just because they won it all last season. They're certainly expecting a lot of themselves, even after a major roster reshuffle. Head coach John Harbaugh used the D-word (dynasty) recently. Despite losing a handful of starters, the organization believes the pieces of a winning team are on hand thanks to a productive draft and several key additions.
With that in mind, here is a set of key questions that hopefully can help us get to the heart of this matter: Would you be disappointed if the Ravens didn't have a winning season in 2013? Would you be disappointed if they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007? Would you be disappointed if they failed to win the AFC North for the first time since 2010? Would you be disappointed if someone else ends up hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy?
Here are my replies: yes, I would be disappointed if they had a losing season and/or failed to make the playoffs; I don't really care about the division title as long as they make the playoffs; and as far as someone else hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, sure, it would be disappointing, but you have to be realistic.
So there you have it, at least in my mind. It's fair to expect the Ravens to have a winning season and compete for a playoff spot. They're certainly expecting that of themselves and would be disappointed if it didn't happen.
But if you're expecting much more, as opposed to hoping for it, you're getting carried away.