Ravens' Response To Doubting Pundits

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Last year at this time, the Ravens entered the regular season as defending Super Bowl champions.

This year, they enter coming off a season in which they finished 8-8 and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

Thus, the Ravens aren't a very popular pick to do much damage this season.

Case in point, ESPN projected each team's best- and worst-case scenarios in the website's big 2014 season preview. The worldwide leader said the Ravens' worst-case scenario would be a second straight 8-8 season. The best-case would be an 11-win season.

The final prediction is an 8-8 record and third-place finish in the AFC North. So they predicted the worst.

So what do Ravens players think?

"Respect is earned, not given," defensive end Chris Canty said.

"The NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. Last year, we didn't have the season we expected to have. We fell short of the expectations of this organization. We're looking forward to the opportunity to start the 2014 campaign, and we'll do our talking on the field."

Players weren't offended by the projections.

"It's doesn't matter whether they sleep or not," outside linebacker Pernell McPhee said. "We'll eventually wake them up one day. If they're sleeping, they're going to have a nightmare, because what we have planned to do this year, we're going to surprise a lot of people."

Both McPhee and Canty said the projections aren't a motivation this season. The 8-8 finish last year is, not what people are saying about it.

"Not making the playoffs, doing what we did last year motivated us," McPhee said. "I'd rather be in a position coming off another Super Bowl, but we understand the position we're in. We put ourselves in that. We know what we want to do. The thing is, we just want to go out there and do it."

The Ravens feel confident this offseason because of the changes they've made – particularly on offense. The offense's struggles hindered the team down the stretch.

Despite troubles last season, they still just needed to win their Week 17 game in Cincinnati to get into the playoffs. While the defense picked off Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton four times, the offense didn't make Cincinnati pay.

Now the Ravens have a new system and Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak. They've got more weapons for quarterback Joe Flacco to throw to with wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., tight end Owen Daniels, healthy tight end Dennis Pitta and improved fullback Kyle Juszczyk. The Ravens believe they have turned around their league-worst run game behind a more confident, bigger offensive line.

While the national pundits are focusing on last year to base this season's projections, the Ravens know that last year is long gone.

"We're a lot different than we were even seven, eight months ago," Pitta said. "With the new system, with a lot of new personnel and a lot of new weapons, we feel like we're a very different team than we were last year. Hopefully that's a positive thing."

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