And finally, we get to the champs. Well ... sort of, as Barnwell points out early on. The Ravens rode a highly improbable playoff run to their second Super Bowl win in franchise history last season, but these are preview podcasts. Taking stock of this year’s Ravens means evaluating a different group.
After rehashing Baltimore’s 2012 postseason, we get into all the changes Baltimore has made since winning the Super Bowl (7:09). Gone are Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, replaced (hopefully) by Baltimore’s first- and second-round picks from April’s draft. Playoff heroes Paul Kruger, Cary Williams, and Anquan Boldin are also gone, and although Barnwell has some concerns about how quickly all the new defensive pieces can come together, I chose to put my faith in Ozzie Newsome & Co. (OK, so did Barnwell; he just doesn’t think it happens this year).
One topic on which we’re a little further part is Joe Flacco (15:05). You can read our Flacco conversation in full below, but where Barnwell thinks the playoff Flacco is closer to the real Flacco, I still have my doubts:
Are you a devoted fan of a professional football team located in a notoriously hardscrabble city on the East Coast? If so, Saturday really wasn't very much fun for you. In a matter of hours, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta and Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin suffered injuries that will likely sideline them for the entire 2013 season. Every NFL team goes through some level of attrition during training camp, but it must feel awful to lose a key player within a few days of getting together and hunkering down for the months ahead. Both Baltimore and Philadelphia will find it difficult to replace their sidelined receiver, but these two players have each lost an opportunity they might never get the chance to replace.
The Pitta injury is the more serious and perhaps more impactful of the two. Details were scarce at first when Pitta was carted off the field after a collision with safety James Ihedigbo, but it was eventually revealed that Pitta had a dislocated hip that would keep him out for six to eight weeks. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that Pitta had actually also fractured his hip and undergone surgery that would keep him out for the remainder of the season. Mention hips with regard to football players and I start thinking of guys like Bo Jackson, who dislocated his hip and suffered a small fracture that eventually led to avascular necrosis, which ended his football career and shortened his baseball career. That's the danger with Pitta's injury, for which getting the fracture to heal might be the easy part. Over the next year, Pitta has to avoid complications and, in the future, hope that the dislocation doesn't become chronic. It's not an injury guaranteed to shorten his career, but one that makes the possibility of a short career more likely. That would be a shame: Pitta has become a very valuable part of the Baltimore offense and a versatile, entertaining player to watch.
In case you were busy realizing that your future isn't so bright, and you should probably take off your shades inside because you look foolish, here's what you missed in sports this weekend:
Derek Jeter came back with a bang, returning from injury by hitting a home run off the first pitch he saw in the Yankees' 6-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. I don't know about you guys, but given Jeter's impossible streak of heroism, isn't it time he got promoted? We all remember when Jeter got drafted out of Kalamazoo as lowly ensign, and then shot up the ranks, becoming Captain Jeter of the SS Yankees. But isn't it time that he's made a rear admiral of the AL East? Now we all know that Jeter is too humble to demand that we put stars on his shoulder, but I think we can all agree that no one deserves being given command of the entire AL East more than Jeter.
The U.S. men's national team reclaimed the Gold Cup title with a gritty 1-0 win over Panama in the tournament final. "Yes, good, now bring me the golden cup, for it must be the grail," said American manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who missed the final match because of suspension. "Finally, immortal life is mine!" Klinsmann then drank deeply from the cup only to find himself in immediate pain. "What is happening to me?" Klinsmann asked assistant coach Kasey Keller, who was screaming in dismay. Klinsmann then rapidly aged until he was nothing but dust and bone, before former manager Bruce Arena stepped out of the shadows and said with a modicum of irony, "He has chosen poorly."
After a decade of mostly familiar names, Super Bowl XLVII is set to provide some welcome new blood under center. Sunday will mark the first title game in five years to feature two quarterbacks who’ve never been here before, but that’s about where their similarities in experience end. For Colin Kaepernick, this start in New Orleans comes barely three months after the first of his NFL career. For Joe Flacco, it’s the next step in his playoff success. But even with all the pressure young Kaepernick is set to face, in my mind, and in terms of scheme, support, and circumstance, there will be more of it placed on Flacco.
Like the 49ers, previous versions of these Ravens relied on a bruising running game and great defense to buttress a young quarterback as he improved from week-to-week. This year, those areas of strength have lagged. After a long stretch of dominance, Baltimore's famed and historic defense fell to the middle of the pack in nearly every category, and although the Ray Rice–led running game is still formidable, its efficiency and production took a step back.
This means that for the first time, the Ravens have become Joe Flacco’s team, and more than ever, Baltimore has relied on its passing attack. Ray Rice has been a steady bailout option for most of Flacco’s career, but it’s Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, and Dennis Pitta who will be the keys come Sunday night.
We're here: Week 16. For those of you lucky enough to still be around, there is boundless glory to be won. To help with the preparation during fantasy football's most sacred of times, we've compiled a short weekly schedule designed to draw from the good (and the bad) methods of readying yourself for the big time.
The Playboy parties, steakhouse dinners, and photo shoots can wait — today is a day for business, the final chance to improve your roster before Week 16. Celebrate your championship berth in style with these waiver-wire pickups.
QB: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (available in 45.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
RB: Jackie Battle, San Diego Chargers (81.2 percent)
RB: Curtis Brinkley, San Diego Chargers (99.7 percent)
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts (48.9 percent)
WR: Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars (39 percent)
TE: Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens (70.2 percent)
FLEX: Joe Morgan, New Orleans Saints (99.9 percent)