I thought the Baltimore Ravens would be a threat in the AFC in 2010 following their impressive post-season performance last year.
Then they went out and added Anquan Boldin, and I thought that put them right over the top.
I know it's hard in the NFL to have one player make that much of a difference...but I think Boldin makes the Ravens a favorite for the top seed in the AFC.
First of all, the Ravens haven't had great receivers in the past. They've had passable, speedy guys, (and a great tight end in Todd Heap) but no one who was a real difference-maker.
Now they have Boldin. He fits well in Baltimore. He's tough, he's physical, and he can catch the ball and run with it. (The addition of Donte Stallworth, coming back from suspension, was a good move to a lesser degree, and a nice complement to Boldin, but he will be out about six weeks after suffering an injury during the third week of the pre-season. Still, he could be a nice addition come late October. And while I'm parenthetically commenting...I think T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a great addition too, following roster cuts. Career rebirth for him?) Most importantly, Boldin gives a young quarterback in Joe Flacco a reliable target. And let's say Boldin is taken out of games by defenses double-teaming him - that makes the field more open for other guys who are still talented, but have a chance to be better against a weakened defense.
The Ravens have a great defense (that's a given in Baltimore, no?), and a deep stable of running backs to add to that passing threat that the Ravens now have. And with the Ravens opening up their 2010 season against the Jets, they have the chance to send a message that they are the contenders people should be talking about in the AFC, not New York. (Just ask Le'Ron McClain.)
Maybe I'm overrating the Ravens (15-1 does seem a bit extreme). But they're the team I think poses the biggest threat to the Jets...at least on paper. They've been over-achieving for a while now with a mediocre offense. I'm nervous to see what the Ravens can do with the offense pulling its weight in Baltimore.
2010 Prediction: 15-1, 1st Place in AFC North