Keeler: Ravens could have big year

This is the time of year that I dislike the most in sports. With basketball season over, only baseball is going on, of the big three sports. I do love baseball, but the season is just way too long to keep my attention for the whole season. However, football is just around the corner.

On my recent vacation I finally found an NFL preview magazine and started to think about the upcoming season. I made my predictions like usual, and I was surprised by my thoughts on one team in particular — the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens didn’t make the playoffs last year, a year removed from winning it all. I think the Ravens will have a big bounce-back year this season.

When I went through and made my predictions, I had the Ravens going 13-3. This doesn’t mean a whole lot coming from me. My predictions are hardly ever right.

I like the addition of veteran wide receiver Steve Smith. I think he will help give the Ravens an even better passing game, and if they can get the running game going strong they will be able to put up some points. If Ray Rice would have stayed healthy who knows what they could have done last year. I expect him to have a big season for Baltimore this year if he stays out of trouble with the law (which he’s had some trouble doing). The Ravens also picked up tight end Owen Daniels, who should give quarterback Joe Flacco another reliable target.

The offensive line will be led by University of Virginia standout Eugene Monroe. The Ravens signed him to a $37.5 million contract, and if he performs up to the money they are giving him they should be fine at left tackle. Left guard Kelechi Osemele is coming off back surgery and the Ravens acquired center Jeremy Zuttah in a trade with Tampa Bay. The pair will certainly be key in how well the Ravens can protect Flacco.

On defense, the Ravens are still solid. Although they gave up a combined 75 points in their last two games last year, the Ravens’ defense is still one of the better ones in the game.

They did lose defensive lineman Arthur Jones to free agency, but with Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty they should still be fine up front. The linebacking corps is still impressive, and who knows how good rookie C.J. Mosley, from the University of Alabama, could be. Then there’s Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, who combined for 19.5 sacks last season.

Jimmy Smith, another player to have trouble with the law, just keeps getting better and Lardarius Webb is still strong in the secondary and one of the team’s best tacklers.

It’s always tough to win the year after you’ve won the Super Bowl. It’s why I’m not picking the Seattle Seahawks to win it all again. I think the Ravens have the right pieces in place to be a factor, especially during the regular season. I definitely think the Ravens will win the AFC North this year. Does anyone really think the Cincinnati Bengals will repeat what they did last year?

The playoffs are always tough to call, but certainly the Ravens will be in the hunt. Personally, I’m picking the Green Bay Packers to beat the Indianapolis Colts, but don’t put much stock in that. My pick of New England over Atlanta last year didn’t come close to coming true. Did the Falcons even win a game?

Baltimore plays well at home, but showed two years ago they can win on the road as well, so I think they have as good a shot as anybody. They certainly have experience and if you’re a Ravens’ fan, you have to feel pretty good going into the season. And really you can’t ask for much more than that.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd