Monday, January 12, 2009

Why I'm Rooting for the Ravens

by: Mike Parker

(Thought I'd chime in on the hot topic du jour.)

Looking at the successes of the Baltimore Ravens this year, it's hard to remember their failures from the previous year. But tell me if this sounds familiar:

The Ravens finished their 2007 season at 5-11. They had their same explosive defensive unit they've had this year, led by a ferocious trio of linebackers. The team suffered massive amounts of injuries last year, with key playmakers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed missing significant playing time. Their issues at quarterback also ran deep, with the oft-injured Kyle Boller trying to fill the void left by Steve McNair, who called it a career after a freakish overtime loss to Cleveland in Week 11. The Ravens' season then took a turn for the worse in Week 16, when they were the only team to save the 2007 Dolphins from becoming the 2008 Lions. To add insult to injury, this happened during the Ravens' longest losing streak in franchise history.

And all the while, the Ravens seemed as though their reign as the NFL's best defensive unit was over. Head coach Brian Billick, who took a lot of the blame for shifty play calling and the team's struggles on offense, announced he would be back next season. That all changed when he was fired weeks later, along with the rest of the coaching staff sans defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

Then, John Harbaugh, a former defensive backs coach, was announced as the team's new head coach, thus beginning a total rebuild of the team going into the following season.

Is this ringing any bells so far?

The 2007 Ravens and the 2008 Seahawks look more than a little similar on paper, right down to Harbaugh's tenure as a defensive backs coach before taking over as head coach. That was the start of their rebuild, just as the Seahawks have started their rebuild with their own defensive backs coach Jim Mora taking the reins. The only difference of course was the move was planned here in Seattle, with some forcible rearranging done in Baltimore. The Ravens went on to draft exactly what they needed in Joe Flacco, who wasn't even supposed to start this year. Now, only a year later, the Ravens are less than a week away from appearing in the AFC Championship game.

My look at all this, like many other fans this year, is "if they can do it, so can we." The Ravens found a way to utilize their monster defense again by changing their gameplan around, and their offense was given a spark with Flacco's emergence as the team's starting QB. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have the explosive talent required for a big turnaround in place already. The linebacking corps might not quite be on par with the ferocity of Ray Lewis, the strength of Terrell Suggs or the durability of Bart Scott, but the skills and mastery of the game are as good as anyone else's in the league.

And since the rebuild has unquestionably worked for Baltimore, there is no reason the Seahawks can't follow suit. They're already assembling something exciting in the coaching staff, which was clearly in need of an overhaul. Greg Knapp and Gus Bradley bring a lot of promise and upside to the table, and have the potential to accomplish what John Harbaugh and Rex Ryan have done in Baltimore. And I believe Harbaugh, Ryan and the plethora of talent they're working with has the right blend of depth, smarts and skills to get them past the Steelers this weekend and into the Super Bowl. Either remaining NFC team would be no match for the Ravens after that.

That's why I would love to see the Ravens go all the way this year. The Cardinals have been largely carried by Kurt Warner's stellar performance, but he's already said retirement is an option he's considering. And let's be real for a minute: Matt Leinart is not the long-term solution to Arizona's long-term playoff hopes. As for Philadelphia, it seems they've peaked at the right time, and could be a danger in the desert come Sunday. But I can't root for the Eagles. I just can't.

And you will never, ever hear me rooting for the Steelers for anything, anytime, anywhere. Ever.

The Ravens are a great success story this year, and it looks as though they are capable of riding the momentum of their 2008 comeback to a victory in the big game.

And if they can do it, so can we. -END-