After coming off of what can only be said to be a surprising 11-5 season in 2008, that had the Baltimore Ravens heading to an AFC Championship game, there is great anticipation for what the upcoming 2009 season will bring.
With the spirited second year quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way for the Ravens, 2009 looks to be a year where a Super Bowl Championship is the goal.
The Ravens look to continue where they left off from last season, constantly improving with every game and stunning opponent after opponent with their stonewall defense and quick hit offense.
The Baltimore Ravens have a lot in their favor in the upcoming season, including a relatively easy schedule and another year of experience under the belts of their young stars.
The AFC West is undoubtedly considered the weakest division in the AFC—if not all of football—as last year they failed to have a single team above the .500 mark, with San Diego winning the division at 8-8 in a tiebreaker over the Denver Broncos, and the Raiders and Chiefs limping through the season at 5-11 and 2-14 respectively.
It does not appear to this point in the offseason that any of the AFC West teams have improved in any significant way.
The NFC North is the second weakest division in the NFC as the Minnesota Vikings took the division with a 10-6 record in the last week from the Bears, who finished at 9-7.
And of course everyone knows about the infamous and now legendary 0-16 Detroit Lions.
The Bears seem to be the only ones who have greatly improved so far as they acquired Cutler, but the Vikings could also look a lot better if they do eventually sign Brett Favre.
The Colts and Patriots are always tough opponents, and this year should not be any different.
Now the Colts did lose soon to be hall of fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison to retirement, but they have the emerging Anthony Gonzalez to help out pro bowl wide out Reggie Wayne.
The Colts should be able to maintain their performance from last year, when they finished the season at 12-4.
The Patriots, however, will be getting back Tom Brady after losing him for all of the 2008 season in their first game last year. The Patriots should be even better with Brady back and the same core as last year when they went 11-5.
The Ravens own division, the AFC North, should be very split as it was last year, with the Ravens and Steelers coming in with double-digit wins, while the Browns and Bengals struggle to avoid double-digit losses.
Pittsburgh looks very similar to their championship team from last year, which went 12-4 and defeated the Ravens twice in the regular season, and won a tough battle in the AFC Championship game over Baltimore, although all three matches were very competitive.
The Browns and Bengals have not shown much improvement over the offseason, which will certainly be necessary if they want to be competitive in the division in the upcoming season.
The Browns, who finished 4-12 last year, have not made any substantial moves to improve their team, which lacked all around last season.
The Bengals are much of the same. Finishing at 4-11-1, they have not improved and there are questions over whether either of their star wide receivers will be with them at the beginning of the season.
The Ravens should look to and expect to be able to sweep both the AFC West and NFC North matchups, as well as the four matches against the Browns and Bengals.
With these expectations, they should be looking for at least a 12-4 season with 10-6 being their absolute worst outcome and a 13-3 or 14-2 season as a possibility this year.
In order for this to happen, they will need Flacco to play like he did last season, but that should not be to much to ask for as he has a year of NFL experience now and an easier schedule.
The draft may prove to be a big help to the offensive line, which has struggled over the past few years as Ogden aged, and retired.
The Ravens have also showed interest in acquiring Anquan Boldin from the Arizona Cardinals, and if they get him then it will make Flacco's job much easier, as last year he only had to receivers to work with in Mason and Clayton.
Flacco should also have some more help from the tight end position this year as he will have a fully recovered Todd Heap and the recently acquired L.J. Smith from the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Ravens' defense will be getting many players back that they did not have for the whole season last year, such as safety Dawan Landry and defensive tackle Kelly Gregg.
Another bonus for the Ravens is the offseason signings of Ray Lewis and Samari Rolle, which will keep a core group of veterans on the Ravens defense.
The final key to the Ravens puzzle may be in the coaching. Although they lost the great defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, they had a rookie head coach last year in Jon Harbaugh, but now he has experience and will need to use it well with Ryan leaving for the Jets.
All of the pieces are there for the Baltimore Ravens to make a run at the NFL Championship in the 2009 season.
If they can perform like they did last year and see improvement from their young players and their coaches, then Baltimore should have an exciting and competitive year as they look to take home the championship, which the rival Pittsburgh Steelers won in 2008.