It's a pleasure to be covering the Ravens this season, and by all accounts I've gathered from respected NFL insiders and reporters in this business this is a first-class organization from the top down.
What makes this team interesting to cover is this: Will that front-office success finally translate into a Super Bowl championship on the field?
Qualifying for the playoffs is expected, and under quarterback Joe Flacco the Ravens have done so four years in a row. But there's a delicate balance between success and failure. This team could be 8-8 or 13-3, depending on how younger players such as linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger and running backs Bernard Pierce or Bobby Rainey perform and the older ones such as center Matt Birk and linebacker Ray Lewis hold up.
And let's not forget Ray Rice. The running back is going into his fifth season after signing a 40 million contract. He rushed for more than 1,300 yards in 2011, led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with more than 2,000 and scored a career high 15 touchdowns.
Remember Chris Johnson of the Titans? After rushing for more than 2,000 yards in 2009, he received a 53.5 million deal before the 2011 season and then had a miserable campaign by posting career lows in carries, yards and touchdowns.
Johnson was a late addition to training camp. This is not the case with Rice, who by all indications is in a better groove and on a better team.
Flacco believes he's top five at his position and going into the final year of his contract he has to prove it with a stronger receiver corp. That means the Ravens must be a better red zone team that puts the ball in the end zone rather than settling for field goals.
Don't believe it? Take a look at the last three Super Bowl champions: Saints, Packers and Giants.