NEW ORLEANS, La.--Win or lose, the Baltimore Ravens will return Feb. 4 from a trip to New Orleans and gear up for next season. After totaling 72 regular season wins since 2006, mostly with legendary inside linebacker Ray Lewis as their leader, Baltimore has been one of the National Football League's (NFL) steadiest teams.
But following the Super Bowl, the Ravens will enter next season with a host of questions. Topics such as Joe Flacco's contract status, the impact of Lewis' retirement, aging stars and a likely Super Bowl hangover should be circling the team bus as it pulls away from the Superdome. So what's next for the Ravens? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley debate.
Riley: You can't act like a decline isn't in order because it definitely is. This offseason will probably be the first crossroad that the franchise has faced in quite some time. With Lewis' retirement and Flacco's contract dangling in the air, the team could totally shift philosophies if Flacco re-signs for big dollars. But with several other factors still nipping at the team's coattails, they're going to be hard-pressed to duplicate this championship appearance next season and beyond. A lot of balls bounced in Baltimore's favor just to make it to New Orleans this year, I can’t see that happening again.
Green: Well, thankfully you're not a psychic, Riley. This franchise is in excellent hands with general manager Ozzie Newsome pulling the strings. He knows how to set the table and keep an appetizing meal that serves the fans. Newsome's a brilliant GM and I expect him to make the right calls this offseason that'll keep the Ravens rolling for a while. Lewis' retirement will hurt but there's a lot of pride and talent on this team. The cupboard isn't bare by any stretch. This team has a lot more years of winning in the near future.
Riley: The Ravens have talent but that Super Bowl hangover, whether win or lose, is a tough one. Removing a leader like Lewis, a guy who could probably direct them out of any funk, is critical as they head into next season. How many Super Bowl losers have we seen not even make the playoffs over the last few years? The New York Giants won it all last year and couldn't even sniff the postseason this year. There's going to be some sense of complacency circling this team after their first Super Bowl appearance in over a decade. And asking a team to deal with that, plus possible deflections of star players and aging players is a lot to ask.
Green: At the end of the day the Ravens still have the most talent in their division. And at the end of the day winning the division is all every team prepares for. That's the first step to a successful campaign so even with Lewis stepping down, the Ravens remain the most talented team in the AFC (American Football Conference) North. Flacco will get his deal and the offense will roll again with Ray Rice in the backfield. The defense no longer has to be a lights-out unit and they'll still play with pride with Lewis retired because many of the players he’s mentored still remain, like linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. This is Flacco's team now and after this season he'll either be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback or just a Super Bowl quarterback. In my opinion, Baltimore's only on the way up as Flacco enters his prime.
Riley: Maybe I'm underestimating Flacco but even he will have some fog to navigate through should he enter next season with a Super Bowl ring and a fat new contract. Hangovers are real and I'm not talking about the college ones. You have some teams in the NFL that hit their peak before they fall back into the pack. After competing and plugging away for so long to finally reach the big game, it's going to be hard for the Ravens to approach next season and battle through considering the many factors that will linger into the season.
Green: When Ravens head coach John Harbaugh first took over in 2008, he looked us reporters in the eyes and told us he would turn this team into a championship dynasty. The look in his eyes made you believe him. His players see that same look and they believe, too. That’s why I’m not worried about this team being motivated to keep the wins rolling in. This is a tough group. They're hard-working and resilient. Newsome knows how to insert the right pieces to keep this team in the running and Harbaugh is a hell of a coach. The Ravens have the front office and brass to stay running for a while. Even with all of those "surrounding factors."