Season Preview: Baltimore Ravens

Season Preview: Baltimore Ravens
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Sports Mole previews the season ahead for AFC North side the Baltimore Ravens.

The Baltimore Ravens had a fairytale ending to last season as they clinched the Super Bowl with victory over the San Francisco 49ers to win the club's second Lombardi Trophy.

However, inspirational leader Ray Lewis decided to call time on his career following the triumph as he headlined an exodus of key players to leave the team.

As ever, general manager Ozzie Newsome weaved his magic in the Draft and free agency to repair the damage as Baltimore hope to become the first team in nine years to win the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons.

Sports Mole takes a look at what the season ahead holds for the Ravens.

Head Coach: John Harbaugh

Last season: 10-6

Review: The Ravens started their Super Bowl run on a high note early in the season as they recorded victories over playoff teams the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots.

They went into their bye week in 5-2, even without the presence of 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs.

Key wins were to follow against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Diego Chargers, where Ray Rice made a crucial play on 4 and 29 in the fourth quarter to secure his side's win over Norv Turner's men, a victory which would have huge implications later in the year.

A three-game losing streak would see Harbaugh's side fall from 9-2 to 9-5 but they secured their playoff place with a win over the New York Giants. The Ravens were far from favourites going into the post-season - however, quarterback Joe Flacco had other ideas.

The 28-year-old put together a solid performance to get his side over the line against the Indianapolis Colts and a week later produced a fourth-quarter miracle on a Hail Mary pass to Jacoby Jones to set up an overtime win over the Denver Broncos. He tore the Patriots apart in the AFC Championship game to earn a Super Bowl berth.

In New Orleans, Flacco produced an MVP performance as he guided his side to their 34-31 win over the 49ers, throwing three touchdowns, securing their second Lombardi Trophy.

Notable Ins

Elvis Dumervil: The 29-year-old left the Denver Broncos in free agency in bizarre circumstances as he failed to send his contract back in time and was released. The Ravens pounced and now have two quality pass rushers on either side of their defense in Dumervil and Suggs. Dumvervil has notched 63.5 sacks in his six years in the NFL, and if he can have that sort of production in Baltimore their defense will yet again be a formidable unit.

Michael Huff: The veteran safety has a massive task on his hands to fill the void left by Ed Reed in the secondary. The 30-year-old was a solid contributor in his six years with the Oakland Raiders and was named in the All-Pro team in 2010. The Ravens will be hoping for that level of performance from the former seventh overall pick this season.

Notable Outs

Ray Lewis: The Baltimore Ravens defense will be without Ray Lewis for the first time since the 1996 season. Lewis was the heart and soul of the team and will be greatly missed not just because of his exceptional ability on the field. His skills last season were diminished and he was something of a liability during the Super Bowl when matched against Vernon Davis but his drive and leadership were crucial in his side's winning of the Lombardi Trophy. That void will be impossible to replace this season.

Ed Reed: The 33-year-old was just as vital in his side's Super Bowl as Lewis and has been the bedrock of the Ravens defense for the past 11 years. The Ravens decided not to offer him a new deal and he left for their AFC rivals the Houston Texans. He always seemed to come up with the crucial play when needed. His leadership in their secondary will be hard to replace.

Anquan Boldin: The veteran receiver could not be covered in the playoffs, he was Flacco's key target during all their fixtures in January and February and scored crucial touchdowns. His ability to make vital catches and help his quarterback out of trouble will be a great miss to the Ravens and Flacco, who now has to find a new number one receiver.

Key Player Offense: Joe Flacco

Key Player Defense: Terrell Suggs

Rookie to watch: Matt Elam

Pre-season form: 2-2

Prediction: 10-6 – Flacco has lost key offensive weapons as Boldin departed to the San Francisco 49ers while Dennis Pitta could miss the year with a dislocated hip. With an offense that struggled at times during the regular season last year with those players, matters can only get worse this year without them. However, the Ravens should have a much better defense which should more than make up for these losses on offense. Expect Dumervil and Suggs to have massive years to fire the Ravens into the playoffs, from there as we know from last year anything can happen with this team.

In this handout image provided by the NFL, Adam Gase of the Denver Broncos poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011
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