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Late for Work: Ray Lewis Says Ravens Can Use AFC Championship Loss As Motivation to Win Super Bowl Next Year

Former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Lewis walks on the field before an AFC Championship NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore.
Former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Lewis walks on the field before an AFC Championship NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore.

Ray Lewis: Ravens Can Use AFC Championship Loss As Motivation to Win Super Bowl Next Year

Like the 2023 Ravens, Ray Lewis knows the pain of suffering a heartbreaking loss in the AFC Championship. The Hall of Fame linebacker also knows the pain can be used as fuel to finish the job the following season.

That's what Lewis and the 2012 Ravens did, winning the Super Bowl a year after coming up short against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.

When asked by Tico Sports' David Andrade if the Ravens can bounce back next season, Lewis said: "You can only come back when you get this close. I felt this pain. And so to feel that, you got to understand there is something else I need to finish. I went through that in 2011, and I told my team after that, we will be back in this same place next year to finish this. So that's the mindset."

Regarding the Ravens' loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, Lewis said: "It's hard to beat a focused champion. And it's rewarding when you do lose and come back and do it."

Ravens' Three Biggest Positional Needs This Offseason

With the 2023 season in the books, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec analyzed the Ravens' roster and ranked the team's positional needs heading into next season. Here are the top three:

Offensive line

"The two starting guards, Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson, are free agents. The two starting tackles, Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses, bring age and injury concerns — and at least one, if not both, could be salary-cap casualties. The cupboard isn't bare. Between Ben Cleveland, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and Andrew Vorhees, the Ravens should be able to find a serviceable starting guard. Patrick Mekari is a solid tackle, even if he's better suited for the swing role, and Daniel Faalele could put himself in position to step in with a solid offseason. But Baltimore needs to find a bookend tackle for the future, if not the present. It could use another starting-caliber guard as well. This is being touted as one of the top offensive line drafts in recent memory. It would be a good time for the Ravens to start retooling this group."

Outside linebacker

"Baltimore relied heavily in 2023 on Jadeveon Clowney, who was signed halfway through training camp; and Kyle Van Noy, who was signed before Week 4. Either one of them could be back, but the price would have to be right and they probably won't come as cheaply as they did this past season. Tyus Bowser, who missed the entire season with a mysterious knee injury, is the most obvious potential cap cut the Ravens have. Odafe Oweh took a small step forward, and the Ravens believe Tavius Robinson and Malik Hamm have potential. David Ojabo has missed most of his first two seasons, and it would be hard to pencil him in for a significant role until he shows he can stay on the field. There is room for one proven veteran. With the importance of the position, the Ravens should pounce if a pass rusher they covet falls to them in the draft."

*Wide receiver *

"Odell Beckham Jr. may not technically be a free agent, but he might as well be with the level of his guarantee for 2025 if he's not cut. The Ravens will have to adjust his contract for him to return. Beckham and Nelson Agholor were extremely popular in the locker room and mostly delivered when given an opportunity. At the team's season-ending news conference, Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta didn't sound like he expects to make another offseason overhaul at receiver. Re-signing either Agholor or Beckham, adding a veteran on the cheap and then drafting a pass catcher within the first three rounds would do the trick."

Ravens Are No. 1 in Early 2024 Power Rankings

The Ravens ended the regular season as a unanimous No. 1 in the power rankings, and despite not making it to the Super Bowl, they retained the top spot in ESPN’s early 2024 power rankings.

It goes without saying that ranking teams before the start of free agency and the draft is a bit silly, but, hey, there's no such thing as too early when it comes to the anticipation for a new football season.

ESPN's Jamison Hensley described the Ravens' offseason in three words: busy, busy, busy.

"The Ravens have 25 unrestricted free agents, including 15 who totaled at least 200 snaps this season," Hensley wrote. "The list includes three Pro Bowl players in defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, inside linebacker Patrick Queen and guard Kevin Zeitler. Baltimore won't have a lot of salary cap space to keep all of its free agents, who combined for 24 touchdowns and 42 sacks this season."

The Super Bowl champion Chiefs and NFC champion San Francisco 49ers were ranked second and third, respectively.

Sports Illustrated's Bold Predictions Include Harbaugh Brothers Meeting in Playoffs

Continuing with today's theme of looking ahead to next season, here are two bold predictions involving the Ravens from Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr.

One has to do with Head Coach John Harbaugh and his brother, Jim, who is back in the NFL as the Los Angeles Chargers' head coach.

"The NFL script algorithm is going to need to heighten the drama in order to keep pace with the Taylor Swift storylines of 2023," Orr wrote. "What better than a late regular-season Harbaugh showdown in prime time, followed by a prime-time playoff game between the two coaches. Jim will win the regular season matchup, while John takes it home in the postseason."[quote fixed]

Orr's other bold prediction is that the Ravens will draft a wide receiver in the first round for the fourth time in six years.

"With some of their positional depth approaching free agency, GM Eric DeCosta takes another swing at the receiver position in the first round," Orr wrote. "While the back end of the round isn't always the best spot, DeCosta has a sound sense of positional economics, and possessing a fifth-year option on a potential star corner or wide receiver in this market is extremely valuable. With Rashod Bateman also approaching his walk year, Baltimore needs to stockpile the roster with complements for Zay Flowers."

Ravens Select Guard, Cornerback in Latest Mock Drafts

As Zrebiec noted, the prevailing opinion is that it's a strong draft class for offensive linemen and it's a position of need for the Ravens.

So it makes sense that draft analyst Chad Reuter has Baltimore selecting Kansas State guard Cooper Beebe with the 30th-overall pick in his mock draft.

"Beebe will have to prove his athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine, but the Ravens could see him as a younger version of Kevin Zeitler, who is headed for free agency," Reuter wrote. "There are not many college linemen who can switch between both tackle spots and left guard in the same game, which is something Beebe did multiple times last season."

A number of mock drafts have the Ravens taking Missouri edge rusher Darius Robinson in the first round, but The Athletic's Nick Baumgardner mocked another Missouri player to Baltimore at No. 30 in cornerback Ennis Rakestraw Jr.

"An intense, physical corner who likes to hit, Rakestraw can give up some ground with his deep speed but also can be a terror underneath," Baumgardner wrote. "Health is a concern, though, and he missed the Senior Bowl with a core injury."

The Ravens' philosophy is you can never have too many cornerbacks. Starters Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens will return, but top reserves Ronald Darby and Arthur Maulet are pending free agents.

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