Let's face it, the Steelers are the reighning NFL champs, and they deserve consideration as being the favorite to repeat as AFC North champs, but a few things have changed since we last saw the Steelers and Ravens do battle. For starters the Ravens had a much better draft then did the black and yellow, and yes it is yellow. Look at the stripe going down the middle of a two way street and compare it to the color of the stripes on the Steelers uniforms. They are the same color, and they call those stripes on the roadway the "Yellow line", not gold as those in the impoverished areas of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area like to call it. Perhaps they only had the 5 pack of crayons while growing up. But I degress, just how much have the Ravens improved to allow them to take over the mantle of division champs?
I believe they have done what they needed to do to regain their rightful place as AFC North Champions, and I'm sure that Mike Tomlin and company have taken notice. Here's how I came to this conclusion...
The Ravens offensive line should be better then last years unit, if for no other reason then the addition of Matt Birk and rookie Michael Oher, which will be an upgrade from last season. Birk brings the wisdom of a seasoned veteran along with the strength to get the job done in the trenches. Oher's size and strength are already more then most NFL defensive players should be able to handle. Add Marshal Yanda once again setting the tone on the right side of the line and you have one of the better units in the entire NFL, or so it seems to me.
The improvement in the O-line should translate into increased production from the Ravens already potent running attack, and make the job of second year quarterback Joe Flacco a hell of a lot easier. I don't see the Steelers O-line having the same quality of players, so chalk that one up for the Ravens.
At quarterback I see the teams as pretty much even. While Ben Roeslisberger is a proven commodity, Joe Flacco is an up and coming star in this league and he should match Big Ben's numbers if not exceed them. I honestly believe that Flacco will show us that he's the real deal this season, and start the era of a dominant Ravens offense to go along with what I believe is the best overall defensive unit in the league.
And that defense should be a little better as well with Tavares Gooden getting the chance to strut his stuff and make us all forget about the loss of Bart Scott. Gooden showed flashes of being up to the task last season before being hit by the injury bug, but now he is fully recovered and has played well at the recent OTA's. The addition of Lardarius Webb looks like it will also pay dividends down the road. Webb has that high level of enthusiasm that usually translates into becoming a highly productive player. He may become this years Jim Leonard.
Another player to keep an eye on is Paul Kruger, who has the same type of motor that my favorite Raven of all time, Michael McCrary, had. This kid has a lot of upside and I think he'll become a dominant defensive end/ linebacker before the year is over. Kruger has the tools to be one of the "good one's" , and may well wind up being the steal of the draft for the Ravens after all is said and done.
The Ravens have also improved their secondary far more then the Steelers have this off season by adding Chris Carr and Dominique Foxworth, both of which are speedsters who can cover their receiver, though neither has shown the ability to become a solid tackler thus far. But, I wouldn't expect that deficiency to last very long once becoming a member of the Ravens defense , which carries a code of conduct like no other. It's true that the players around you will make you better if you have the desire to be better, and these two will be associated with the best of the best.
I see the Ravens exacting a little revenge this season and winning both regular season contests. Hey, looking at life through purple colored glasses on my part you say? Maybe, but I see this years Ravens becoming something special, and I don't think I'm very far off the mark. Last season showed the Ravens players what they are capable of achieving with hard work and dedication to a team first principal. I see them building on that foundation this season and setting the bar to an even higher level.
What's our name? RAVENS!!!