Why shouldn't I have high expectations about this year's team? The Ravens have won two Super Bowls and they're barely of consenting age. Consider all of the NFL teams that have accomplished much less despite having existed longer. They've only got six losing seasons and the last time they had back-to-back seasons where they missed the playoffs were in 2004-2005, and they just barely missed in 2004. Success is not foreign to them.
My expectations are founded in three losses, where if things went just the least bit differently, the Ravens are in the 2013 playoffs.
Week 6 vs. Green Bay Packers
If you heard that a team held Aaron Rodgers to one touchdown, picked him off, made him generally uncomfortable in the pocket and forced three fumbles, you'd surely think they'd won. And most times you'd be right. Except the Ravens recovered none of the three fumbles (further proof that fumbles are incredibly fluky plays) and they wouldn't get into Packer territory until they recovered a blocked punt.
And somehow they lost by less than a field goal. The main thing that could've changed the outcome is Jim Caldwell showing some creativity at the Green Bay 1-yard line. I was practically screaming at my TV for Caldwell to call a QB sneak, pass, heck they had Rick Wagner in as an eligible receiver, why not throw it to him? No one would see it coming! He can't have worse hands than Ed Dickson!
Nope. Four straight runs up the middle, all stuffed, because at 5-8 and 205 pounds, Ray Rice is no LeGarrette Blount-type power back, and no amount of "muscle gain" is going to change that. He could've at least thrown Terrence Cody in there and given him the ball if he wanted to run four times up the middle, I'm sure he would've done better. But no, the Ravens would turnover on downs and end up losing.
Here, creative play calling could've changed the Ravens fortunes, something they now have with Gary Kubiak.
Week 11 vs. Chicago Bears
The Ravens were down by three and at the Bears red zone with less than 10 seconds to go and one timeout remaining. That's just enough time to attempt a pass and a field goal. A touchdown wins the game. Torrey Smith is open in the end zone. All Flacco has to do is throw it to Smith and the Ravens win. Unfortunately, Gino Gradkowski would snap the ball low and by the time Flacco gets ready to pass, Smith is covered. The Ravens settle for a field goal and end up losing in overtime. If the Ravens had a competent center who can get the ball out properly, the Ravens win.
Week 17 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Yes the Ravens lost by 17 points, but I ask you: how many teams pick off their opponent four times and do that? Not many. Fact of the matter is the Ravens would've won that game if they were offensively competent, which they should be now.
Those three losses and the minor changes that kept them out of the 2013 postseason. With those things fixed heading into 2014, it gives plenty of reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season.