This article is part of our Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
As far as defending champions go, the 2013 Ravens were rather forgettable. Coming off of five consecutive postseason appearances and a dramatic Super Bowl victory, Baltimore struggled to an 8-8 record while failing to qualify for the playoffs for the first time under coach John Harbaugh's leadership. Life in a post-Ed Reed/Ray Lewis world was tougher than expected for the perennial contenders but not for the reasons one might expect. The Baltimore defense actually showed signs of improvement from 2012, while the offense struggled miserably in Joe Flacco's first season after signing a massive six-year contract. Flacco was inconsistent and certainly deserves some of the blame for a disappointing campaign, yet the bigger issue was the players surrounding him. An offensive line that was expected to be a point of strength instead turned into arguably the Ravens' biggest weakness. Making matters worse, Flacco lacked reliable targets to throw to, and the running game failed to get going all season.
The Ravens' well-respected front office addressed two of the team's glaring weaknesses in the offseason, signing veteran wideout Steve Smith, then trading for center Jeremy Zuttah. Smith's best days are behind him, and Zuttah is no Pro Bowler, but the team badly needed another reliable target for Flacco, not to mention some stability on the interior line. The Ravens also added long-time Texans' tight end Owen Daniels, who should serve as a strong complement to a now-healthy Dennis Pitta,