From hero to zero.
You wouldn't have thought it a season ago, but that simple term pretty much describes the Pittsburgh Steelers current situation to a tee.
It's almost funny to think this time last year we were looking at one of the most solid and stable teams in the NFL, who were fresh off of a Super Bowl win, and were heading into the 2009 season as clear favorites in the AFC North.
But, oh, how things have changed.
That's the beauty of this league; just when you think things are going as predicted, the NFL throws a curve ball.
Although the Pittsburgh Steelers haven't helped themselves out at all, it's safe to say the old black and gold just aren't what they used to be.
Amidst all of the talk and drama, one team is being ignored.
The Baltimore Ravens.
Sure, they had an impressive 2009 season that was ended by the Super Bowl runner-up Indianapolis Colts, but for the most part, the Baltimore Ravens stamped their seal of dominance on the NFL.
They left the entire AFC on standby—we must all wait and see what the Ravens can do in 2010.
Right now, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in quite the pickle.
Ben Roethlisberger may possibly be suspended for a number of games next season, and star wide receiver Santonio Holmes has shipped off to New York for, what he hopes to be, a solid future under Rex Ryan.
However, all of this comes as good news to Ravens fans, who hope once again to rally for the AFC North title, and prove to everyone that they indeed are legit Super Bowl contenders.
But with this said, why should we consider Baltimore as a force in the North?
Well it's simple, and I can narrow it down to three reasons.
1. The Ray Rice Factor
The first one is the obvious one; the Ray Rice factor.
In 2009, Ray Rice was nothing short of dominant. Granted, he did lack some force in the playoffs but Ray Rice's 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season speaks for itself.
More importantly though, the Ravens finally have found that spark on offense that has the ability to post a frenzy of points.
Take, for example, the AFC Wildcard game against the New England Patriots. A head scratcher as to who would win from the beginning, the Ravens came out in brute force and swept the Patriots off their feet on their way to an impressive victory.
Luck or just pure genius?
The Ray Rice factor was the one true reason that gave Baltimore this win. The other important point when looking at Ray Rice, is what I like to call "The Fear Factor."
No, Joe Rogan isn't hosting it, but when teams are set to face the Baltimore Ravens, suddenly strategies begin to change, as the sole presence of Rice on the other side of the ball makes defenses seem just that little bit more overrated.
Aside from mental advantages though, it's just what Ray Rice brings to the field that makes him unique. Force, speed, and strength just come with the package, and Ray Rice resembles a sort of Tiki Barber (in his younger days) type running back when he gets going.
2010 promisises big things for Rice, which equals big things for the Baltimore Ravens.
2. The Addition of Anquan Boldin
The addition of Anquan Boldin was unexpected to say the least.
To see Boldin depart from Arizona straight to the opposite side of the country, is no doubt a big change not only for spectators of the game, but Anquan Boldin himself.
As for how Boldin will go, well it isn't the easiest prediction to make, but given his 1,024 yard season last year with Arizona, Anquan's future with the Ravens looks to be promising.
The major thing that we must look at when considering Anquan Boldin, is that he no longer has to fight against one of the premier wide receivers in the league.
Larry Fitzgerald is on the other side of the country, and therefore it is only fitting that Boldin should excel as Joe Flacco's go-to guy.
Also, Boldin has developed over time, and it seems like every year he develops that little bit more, in every area of his game. This continued development leaves analysts with nothing but kind words when they evaluate Boldin's seasons.
Four touchdowns last year was low for Boldin, but expect him to amp up his game a little this year, as Joe Flacco also looks to improve.
This should result in a good mixture of high percentage pass plays that pad Boldin's stats a little.
3. The Excitement and Anticipation
If there's one thing that the Ravens feed off of, it's excitement, expectation, and anticipation for what is yet to come.
Last season, there were a few times when the Ravens looked "one and done," especially following dismal losses to teams like Green Bay. Instead of folding like many teams do though, Baltimore pulled something out of nothing, and much of the credit must go toward head coach John Harbaugh, who has managed to time and time again lead Baltimore to impressive places.
The other thing to consider now, with Pittsburgh on the down, is just how much faith this gives Baltimore in terms of what their outlook is for the 2010 season.
Therefore, expect the Ravens to be fired up on opening day. Ray Lewis is always one to be fond of a little pep talk, and expect him to rally the troops for battle against whomever the Ravens face in Week One.
The 2010 season brings a new looking offense with Boldin, a still ever-so-present defense, and, of course, a Steeler controversy that is making the Ravens smile with joy at the sight of their arch-rivals possible failing.
All this adds up to be, at least, an above average season for the Ravens, even if it has its down falls.
A record of 11-5, 12-4, or possibly less?
Who knows, but the Ravens are on the rise and crowing loudly. Pittsburgh hasn't stopped them lately, and it isn't looking like they will next season either.
The AFC North or the Super Bowl? Let's wait and see, it promises to be exciting.
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