This article is part of our Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
It is starting to sound like a broken record in Baltimore. The Ravens have lost to the eventual AFC Super Bowl representative in the playoffs each of the last four seasons. Last year, Billy Cundiff missed as 32-yard kick in the final seconds of a game that would have sent the Ravens into overtime against the Patriots. Two plays earlier, Lee Evans dropped a sure touchdown that should have sealed the team's ticket to the Super Bowl.
The Ravens are oh so close, something the front office has highlighted by keeping the makeup of the team relatively intact. Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and (presumably) Ed Reed all return to a team capable of competing with anyone in the league.
The Ravens will be down at least one very key core member, however. Terrell Suggs, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, tore his Achilles' during an April workout, potentially sidelining him for much, if not all, of the season. An improved Suggs and the attention he commanded were big reasons why the Ravens went from 27 sacks in 2010 to 48 last season. Rookie Courtney Upshaw will likely be tasked with replacing the veteran pass-rusher and his 14 sacks from a year ago, a tall order to be sure.
Still, the defense should be fine, assuming Lewis and Reed continue to defy their age and stay healthy. The Ravens were first in the league last year, holding teams