It is the perfect time to be a football fan in Baltimore. With the Orioles all but assured to end the season among the worst teams in MLB history (you gotta have goals), Baltimore fans are already turning towards the fluff pieces of a midsummer football fan’s dream, where every addition to the team has worked out, and every player lost didn’t matter much anyway. In June, Anquan Boldin will be healthy for 16 games. In June, Donte Stallworth will rediscover his form that made him a first round pick. In June, Joe Flacco will progress into a Pro Bowler and Ray Rice will repeat his 2009 success. In June, the secondary will be good enough and the pass rush will be much improved. But the dreams of June could be tempered by reality in September.
Now, that isn’t to say that the Ravens won’t be a very good team, but that hyperbole is often the only news on the docket. Today’s latest “news” was Derrick Mason proclaiming that the offense could score 25-35 points per game, which would put them somewhere between Indianapolis and New Orleans in terms of offensive effectiveness. Anything above 31 points per game would make it the most prolific offense in the league. I am not saying that the Ravens won’t be good, but I would be happy with last year’s 24 points per game as long as they spread it out to the right opponents- the Ravens had a lot of high-scoring games last year but fell completely flat in others. Other pieces will tell you about some undrafted rookie free agent or 30-year-old backup who “could” make an impact if all goes well, along with a story of how they dominated at McNeese State back in the day. It could happen, but I have been through too many offseasons to fall back into the pattern of buying the hype.
Through the 2000’s, I found myself every year reading about how the offense was ready to “take off” and how the players were sure that they had found their chemistry. After all, they said, they got to practice against the best defense in the NFL. Well, the last part of that was true. Every year by July or so I had started to believe it, and that perhaps Clarence Moore, Devard Darling, and Randy Hymes were hidden gems who would bring the Ravens offense into respectability. Well, the Ravens offense made it to respectability last season, and with the additions of Stallworth, Boldin, and two pass-catching tight ends in Dickson and Pitta, there may not even be enough balls to go around. In theory, anyway.
What we do know about the Ravens is that they have all the tools to be good. Their secondary could use some work; Dawan Landry needs a bounceback year and Laradarius Webb needs to come back and play this season with the same promise he showed in his brief tour of duty last year as a starter. Oh yea, and then there’s that whole issue with Ed Reed’s health. In my mind Baltimore has the right leadership and certainly the right personnel to pull off a win in this division with Pittsburgh possibly digging itself into an early hole and Cincinnati lacking the high-powered offense we have been accustomed to seeing from them through the years. The Browns are, well, the Browns, but they are on the way back to mediocre in a few seasons.
But no one wins games in June, and Baltimore fans have seen more than one hyped season end with disappointment. After all, last season was supposed to be the leap to an elite team- were it not for some fortunate bounces in other tiebreaking categories, that 9-7 record would have had the Ravens on the outside of the playoffs looking in. For a Baltimore fanbase clamoring for a winner (and a distraction from the Orioles), the Ravens are the obvious choice- but until October rolls around, we won’t know much about this team.