There are three questions that Ravens fans have asked me. I have decided to bring them here to attempt to answer these questions in case other Ravens fans have the same questions. Answers will be brief.
#1: What are your expectations for the Ravens next year?
The Ravens have a decently hard schedule, facing 6 playoff teams from last season. Thankfully, they play 5 of those teams at home (including the Bengals, whom they also play in Cincinnati.) The only team out of those six that they don't play at home is the Denver Broncos. The Ravens open the season against the Broncos in Denver. If they go 5-1 against these teams due to home-field advantage, that would be fine with 99.9% of Ravens fans.
The Ravens have lost 8 starters from last season, but there is one thing that hasn't changed: The fanbase. Ravens Nation is a huge part of the Ravens, especially at home games. The Ravens were undefeated at home in the 2011 season, and only lost 2 games at home in the 2012 season. Since the Ravens play so many hard teams at home in 2013, it could show a possible good season to come for the defending champions.
Since the Ravens have had so many changes, and they do play 7 games against playoff teams (Bengals twice,) I see them winning double-digit games. I would say the Ravens go 11-5, losing to a few mediocre teams along the way. I also see them winning the AFC North, something that many fans are questioning.
#2: Who will be the leaders in the locker room?
With a few holes to fill in the motivation side of the team, we look to two members of the defense to pump up the team before and after games.
The first guy to look at is Terrell Suggs. Suggs is a very vocal member of the team, notoriously known for his trash-talk to fans and players. Suggs has been seen giving pre-game speeches, but they are not nearly as great as Ray Lewis' were. Terrell Suggs was the 2011 Defensive Player-of-the-Year, giving him all-star status on the team. A combination of his play on the field and his voice on/off the field, puts Suggs in the perfect position to be a leader.
The second man is much quieter, Haloti Ngata. Ngata is a beast when it comes to playing football. Ngata can get to quarterbacks with ease and is probably one of the fastest guys for his size. Ngata is a Pro-Bowler, like many other players on the Ravens. The only problem with him is the fact that he is much quieter than Suggs and Lewis. Rarely do you see Ngata trying to pump the team up, giving a post-game speech, or being animated on the sidelines or the field. Ngata is a great player that can be a leader, he just needs to learn how to break out of his shell and scream a little, or a lot.
Look for these two guys in the middle of the huddle before games next season.
#3: How will the defense be different?
First, let's state the obvious.
The Ravens will be without the following: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, & Cary Williams. With that being said, the Ravens will be without two first-ballot Hall-of-Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Now for the not so obvious.
The Ravens' defense allowed 33 touchdowns last season, a high number compared to how it usually is. The Ravens will be losing 5 of the top 6 tacklers last season, and the top 2 interceptors. Ed Reed and Cary Williams were responsible for 8 interceptions last season, not counting the playoffs. Without these 8 turnovers, the Ravens' season could have had a different outcome.
The Ravens' CB squad will become much better with the return of Lardarius Webb, who tore his ACL in Week 6 of last season. Webb is known as one of the top CB's in the NFL, and is a fan favorite among Ravens fans. Webb is a unique corner, a guy who can get to quarterbacks and can also grab balls out of the air. With his presence back on the field, it could change the backfield of the Ravens in an extremely positive way.
Overall, the defense will be younger and have less experience. It may not be up to it's usual high-powered defense, but over time the young players may develop. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees is very talented, and can do his best to get some of the younger guys to step-up. As we all know, one of the Ravens favorite mottoes is "Next Man Up."