Whoever thought the winning formula for a Super Bowl championship meant losing four of your last five regular-season games?
The Baltimore Ravens overcame a late slump, suddenly got hot, and wound up capturing the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.
But there have been a lot of changes for the champs since beating the San Francisco 49ers in February in New Orleans.
The Ravens have been to the playoffs every year since the arrival of head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco in 2008. Those five consecutive postseason appearances is currently the longest active streak in the league.And Baltimore will make it six straight trips to the playoffs...
If: The Baltimore offense continues to improve. Quarterback Joe Flacco capped off a tremendous postseason run with a MVP performance in Super Bowl XLVII. But Flacco threw just 22 touchdown passes during the regular season and committed 14 turnovers. Look for even more production from running backs Ray Rice (1,143) and Bernard Pierce (532), who combined for 1,675 yards rushing last season. And emerging tight end Dennis Pitta could fill the void left by the trade of veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
And: The offensive line performs as it did in the playoffs in 2012. Harbaugh revamped the entire front for the postseason, and it paid off handsomely. However, veteran center Matt Birk has retired and left tackle Bryant McKinnie (who started all four playoff games after not starting all season) is currently unsigned.
But: The Ravens' defense elevates its game from a year ago. Last season, Baltimore finished 17th in the league in total yards allowed, the franchise's lowest ranking since 2002. Harbaugh's club also gave up the most rushing yards in a season in team history. But the club turned very opportunistic in the postseason, forcing 10 turnovers in the four playoff wins. With Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams all former Ravens, can this unit possibly be better? April's draft will be crucial to this side of the football.
So what do you think? No team has reached back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots won XXXVIII and XXXIX.
But will the Ravens even be in position come January to make another championship run?
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory.
Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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