This article is part of our Team Previews series.
By Louis Bien
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The cloud of the Super Bowl hangs constantly over the Ravens. Ray Lewis talks about it, seemingly daily, going so far as saying that he will retire should the Ravens hoist the Lombardi Trophy this year. Playing for a contender was a big reason Ricky Williams agreed to play second fiddle to Ray Rice. But come playoff time, it's always disappointment. Three straight playoff berths, three losses, all to the eventual AFC Super Bowl representative, two of them to bitter AFC North rival Pittsburgh.
The Ravens believe they have the core to win big now. They have one of the league's best young quarterbacks in Joe Flacco, now entering his fourth season with the franchise. They have a versatile young running back in Ray Rice, who is once again primed to put up big numbers behind a cohesive offensive line. And as always, they feature a stout defense, mixing Hall-of-Fame caliber veteran stalwarts with a talented group of rising youngsters.
But do they really have enough? The truth is, the Ravens have entered the season with roughly the same expectations in at least the past two seasons (credit is due for the 2008-09 playoff run behind a rookie QB), and both of those seasons ended in disappointment. The fear among Ravens' fans is that perhaps what they have isn't as great as they thought.
Fans and coaches expect Flacco to take that next step into the upper echelon