After an intriguing and productive offseason in which many teams made significant moves to better themselves for 2009, ESPN released its first preseason power rankings yesterday, revealing the Baltimore Ravens as the sixth-ranked team as of May 26.
The rankings were compiled the writers and bloggers of ESPN.com, including AFC North Blogger James Walker. Walker attended the Ravens' mini-camp earlier this month and liked what he saw:
The development of Flacco is viewed as the key to the Ravens' success in 2009. The last four teams to win the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, each have a franchise passer to lead them. Flacco took steps to become that in 2008 despite being a rookie. All indications from Organized Team Activities (OTAs) are that he's well on his way to that level.
"Joe, to me, is light-years ahead of where he should be," said linebacker Lewis. "Just seeing the communication that he has with the guys, you see him. He's always trying to fix something, tweak something that the guy should be working on. Just seeing how he's grabbing guys in is a big move."
Flacco will have to challenge Ben Roethlisberger of the Super Bowl Champion Steelers, who bested the Ravens three times last season and are ranked first overall. They will again be viewed as the team to beat in both the division and the conference. But oddly enough, the Ravens wouldn't have it any other way.
"I'm thrilled that arguably the best team in this league is in our division. It's something for us to shoot for," said Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. "Our sights are focused on beating Pittsburgh. If you start there and climb that mountain, then we're probably going to be pretty good."
Pittsburgh retained 20 of its 22 starters from their championship team. Baltimore, meanwhile, saw a significant roster turnover, with Bart Scott, Jason Brown, Jim Leonhard, Chris McAlister and Matt Stover no longer with the team. They also lost defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Rex Ryan to the New York Jets.
They in turn brought in Domonique Foxworth, Matt Birk, L.J. Smith, Chris Carr and John Beck, and drafted Michael Oher in the first round to solidify the offensive line. By filling in nearly every major hole of the offseason, the Ravens appear prime in the eyes of the media to make a run in 2009.
Also ranked ahead of Baltimore, in ascending order, were the Patriots, Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Colts. The Ravens lost to the Giants and Colts in 2008, but beat the Eagles. They did not play the Patriots, but will in 2009, along with Pittsburgh twice and Indianapolis.
The Ravens were ranked higher than the San Diego Chargers (seventh), Tennessee Titans (eighth) and the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals.
The NFL is a league of parity, where teams can rebound or take a dive in one season. In the preseason rankings last year, the Ravens came in at 21st. Walker wrote even then that the right quarterback can make the difference between a winning and losing season.
Then again, the Ravens had high expectations entering 2007 and were ranked as such, only to finish the season at 5-11 and at the bottom of the AFC North.
A lot can happen between now and when the season begins, and no one will truly know anything until opening kickoff but Baltimore fans should take pride in knowing that their team is viewed as one of the elite at this point in the year.