#9: The Baltimore Ravens
You knew it was going to be the Ravens, right?
This team was constantly on the verge of greatness. There were moments last season: like when they thumped the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 1, when they looked like they had all the pieces to go the distance.
And then there were the games where they looked lost, undisciplined and sloppy.
And that's a recipe for disaster.
The better teams in the league always compete. They may lose, but they tend to lose to teams they should lose to.
And that's a little misleading, obviously, because 'should' is a dangerous word in sports.
But the Jags? One Monday Night Football? Really?
The fact remains that this team is full of talent. Torrey Smith became one of the best deep threats in the league last season, and Ray Rice is among it's biggest difference makers.
The defense, which at times looked out of sync, will welcome both Ed Reed and Ray Lewis back next year.
I'm not sure that's a good thing across the board. Lewis is a motivating leader, but has finally lost that step we expected him to lose eight seasons ago and probably shouldn't be a three down player anymore. Ed Reed is still a ballhawk, but how long can he cheat left ro run right and not pay for it?
Dominique Foxworth is likely not returning next year due to the emergence of Jimmy Smith and especially Ladarius Webb. That'll be a tough voice to lose in the locker room. We hope his knee problems don't hold him back for the rest of his career. Whoever signs this guy is getting a class act.
In general though, the Ravens were solid across the board. I just put Joe Flacco in the Matt Ryan camp of quarterbacks who you love as people but aren't actually elite.
People have been waiting for Flacco to take that big step forward and I'm not sure it's actually there, though his best should certainly be good enough. He's improving every year, but I doubt we see a quantum hyperspace leap any time soon.
In the end, it was the heartbreaking field goal miss that defined this season, but there's a lot to be excited about in Baltimore. That game against the Patriots will leave a mark, and keep them hungry.
They did everything they needed to to stay in it except kick a chip shot. Third downs, hard yards, ugly fours. They did everything more or less right.
By retaining Cam Cameron, the Ravens have made a big mistake, though. Cameron doesn't bring enough dynamism to the offense, and while keeping the O on the same playbook is a good thing, I don't think anyone really fears this offense. They fear Ray Rice catching dump offs and they fear Torrey Smith going over the top, but there's not all that much else to keep defenses guessing.
The future is bright, though. They have a solid young defensive core. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are absolute monsters. They have good young tight ends. They have an elite running back and a top flight deep threat. And they have Anquan Boldin able to go over the middle and play my-ball.
It's a great franchise, with great management and talented coaching. It's tough to wear purple and be taken seriously, but with only a few more pieces, this team could go the distance.
Tomorrow: #8 is a team I love to kick around, but is determined to do the kicking next year...