Jun 5, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (center) and general manager Ozzie Newsome (right) laugh during the White House Visit at The White House. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens, Patriots losses should have Broncos, others smiling

  National Football League training camps are still a month away from opening, but it isn’t too early to start salivating.

  If you’ve been following along since Baltimore held off San Francisco to win Super Bowl XLVII, you will have noticed several developments that have changed the NFL landscape, especially in the AFC where the Denver Broncos reside.

  The biggest developments have come from two teams that have been perennial contenders, the defending-champ Ravens and the New England Patriots.  Both organizations are putting on happy faces, but both have taken huge offseason hits.

  The Ravens have lost more than half of their defensive starters and, despite grabbing Elvis Dumervil from Denver, have done little to replace departed stars other than to move second-stringers up a notch or put draftees at the top of the depth chart.

  The Raven depth chart on defense lists eight different starters from last season.  Gone are surefire Hall of Famers Ray Lewis to retirement and Ed Reed to Houston via free agency.  Think they might be missed?

  Baltimore has two rookies listed as starters, safety Matt Elam and inside linebacker Arthur Brown, and has three other starters who have had injuries that have them questionable to return in time for training camp.  One of their listed starters, safety Michael Huff,  whose last two seasons bordered on terrible, was picked up after being cut by the Raiders.

  And while they re-signed free agent quarterback Joe Flacco to a massive new contract, they lost his favorite target, Anquan Boldin, to free agency.  Flacco’s starting wideouts are now Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, both of whom can fly, but neither of whom can run a route over the middle where Boldin was so successful.

  Raven head coach John Harbaugh did what he had to do earlier this month when assessing his team, saying he could see no reason they wouldn’t win a second straight Super Bowl.

  Brave words, too much roster turnover.

  What has happened with the Ravens’ roster pales in comparison to what has gone on in New England.

  First, as all good Bronco fans know, Wes Welker did indeed take his 100-plus catches per season and head to Denver.

  And quarterback Tom Brady rightly pouted.  But the loss of Welker isn’t the only thing that Brady will be feeling once the games start.

  All-World tight end Rob Gronkowski had a fourth surgery on a forearm, then had another surgery, this one on the back.  His return is questionable, not only by the start of training camp, but by the start of the season.  If he is on the physically unable to perform list the first week of the season, he can’t even practice until the sixth week.

  Then, of course, there is the loss of their second All-World tight end, Aaron Hernandez, to his arrest and murder charge this week.  The Patriots, not wanting to deal with the media circus, cut him.

  Making a bad situation even worse, top wideout Brandon Lloyd was released and the top running back receiver, Danny Woodhead, is now a Charger.

  If the season were to start right now, the Patriots would have Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells at tight end and Danny Amendola and Donald Jones at wide receivers.

  Scare you?  I thought not.

  Combine all this with the 29th-ranked defense against the pass (and little free agent help), and you’ve likely seen the last of Bill Belichick’s run of titles in the AFC East.

  Miami has gone about the business of stocking up with free agents on the offensive side and has had one of the league’s top defenses for several years.  And Tim Tebow has left the Big Apple, something that may actually help the Jets get back on track, not to mention drive Belichick crazy with stupid-reporter questions during training camp since Tebow is now a Patriot.

  Yes, these events have taken a chunk out of two teams who were among the powers of the AFC last season.

  Sitting at the top smirking are teams like the Broncos, Houston, Indy and Cincinnati.  Those are the teams with the real happy faces.

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  • http://sbpra.com/paulvsuffriti Paul V. Suffriti

    Was this a good early assessment of the Pats or just wishful thinking?

    A deeper look at the team reveals a different story.

    The Pats have one of the best offensive lines, if not the best, in the NFL. They averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season. Woodhead was a marginal pass receiver coming out of the backfield, Vereen will be a big improvement. Welker was a big part of the offense but Brady relied on him too much with the short over the middle passes which reduced big play opportunities. Lloyd was not a deep threat and would roll to the ground after he received the ball, one reason he was cut. The drafted deep threat receivers are still an unknown but they would be a plus seeing that they have not had a real deep threat for awhile. Brady is one of the best QBs at reading a defense and moving the ball. During the SB years Brady did more with less talent. The offense is not in decline just evolving to a new look. It would be nice if the Broncos took the Pats offense lightly.

    “Combine all this with the 29th-ranked defense against the pass (and little free agent help), and you’ve likely seen the last of Bill Belichick’s run of titles in the AFC East.”

    What? Let’s start with the D-line. The Pats got rid of unproductive dead weight and cut DT Deaderick and Love. They signed FA Kelly and Armstead, more aggressive pass rushers to bust the pocket up the middle, to line up next to Wilfork. They signed FA Adrian Wilson, Safety, to shore up the middle and they will have Talib and Dennard at CB playing together for a whole season. So, as you may view the Pats defense as weak in areas, like last year, they are much improved and may be the bright surprise for the Pats fans this year. While many are looking at the Pats offense as lacking and weaker, the team as a whole may be more balanced. The core of the Pats team is strong, so wish and predict now because they will win the AFC east again and see you in the postseason. Looking forward to the match up in Foxboro later in the season and yeah Gronk will be playing in that game.

    • joeblow

      “The Pats have one of the best offensive lines, if not the best, in the NFL.”. That is an interesting opinion coming out of Patwatboro, but I do agree. However, it has been my observation that Pats fans are very often raving about how good Tommy Brady is despite the poor offensive line. Evidently admitting to a good offensive line detracts from Brady’s stature in the minds of those with a mancrush on Tommy B. Don’t get me wrong, Tommy is good but somewhat overrated in my book. Belechick deserves most of the credit for his success because Belechick understands (unlike many other GMs/coaches) that offense is built on the backs of the O-line. As for your 2013 season up there in Foxboro, it just blew up. Has nothing do do with what moves were made, or who is healthy and who is not. It’s two words: Aaron Hernandez. Buckle up, it’s gonna be a rough ride in beantown.

      • http://sbpra.com/paulvsuffriti Paul V. Suffriti

        You give too much credit to Hernandez for the success of the offense. He missed five games last year due to an injury and when he returned, he was not 100% and less effective. The Pats did not miss a beat on offense with his absence or lack of effective play…..this is what the Pats call, next man up.

        “As for your 2013 season up there in Foxboro, it just blew up.”

        Hardly. Throughout Brady’s career, there have been many moving parts on offense (new players) and Brady has made a positive connection with them maintaining the Pats offense as one of the best year after year after year. This year will be no different.

        • joeblow

          Point missed. The Hernandez circus is coming to town and its going to get a lot worse
          before it gets better. Media frenzy will be in full swing come start of the season. Sure, there will be a lot lip service about how this will not be a distraction and will not affect play on the field. I say otherwise.

          • http://sbpra.com/paulvsuffriti Paul V. Suffriti

            You may have missed the news….but Hernandez is not a member of the Pats, he was cut. There will be no circus (much to your dismay) at the Pats training camp or during preseason. There is no association with Hernandez and the Pats……period. No distraction…..BB and the team have moved on.

  • Joe Deasel

    Keep doubting the Ravens, they love to play the underdog role. In case you forgot the Ravens outscored the Broncos in last years playoff. The defense was not the primary reason why they won. Besides when was the last time a Super Bowl champ repeated, 2004. That tells me that standing pat, which most Super Bowl wines do is not the best way to win another title. The Ravens have brought in some hungry rookies and vets who will be bringing it on Sundays. So hold off reserving a spot in their trophy case for next year’s Lombardi trophy, it’s gonna be fun

  • laboyzz

    “have done little to replace departed stars other than to move second-stringers up a notch or put draftees at the top of the depth chart.”

    This is totally false! Did you do any research? They lost starters: Ray Lewis, Reed, Pollard, Cary Williams, injury-starter Ellerbe, and ackup/pass rush specialist Paul Kruger. They are replacing them with: Daryl Smith-FA or Arthur Brown-2nd rnd (for Ray), Huff (for Reed), Webb (for Williams), Dumervil (for Kruger), and McClain reclaiming his job (from Ellerbe). So besides Elam taking over the SS job, you have 2 guys returning from injuries to retake their jobs, and 3 FA signings. Not to mention the added depth on the d-line: Canty, Spears and Brandon Williams. So we didn’t fill ANY holes by ” move second-stringers up a notch,” and only 1 rookie who won’t have to fight for a starting job…

    And the fact that Huff was cut says little about his ability and more about his bloated salary. Huff, Canty, Dumervil, and Spears were all cut in the middle of big contracts, because the value was not there. None of them would have been cut if they were making wat we are paying them.

  • Jay Stern

    Rick. Put the pipe down. The Patriots and the Ravens have two of the best systems in football. From coaching to schemes to the instilled attitudes, no wonder why they are always a playoff contender.
    Brady has made many a so-so look like a HOFer and the Ravens have upgraded their defense. Boldin had a great post-season but his is replaceable, just watch him in SF.
    When you take off your orange sunglasses, you may realize it is you who has wishful thinking. The Broncos had a fantastic year, which will be very difficult to duplicate. Let’s wait until the season is played, then see who is smiling.

  • Jimr

    Ravens defense was slow and ranked 17th last year. Youth infusion with Marcus Spears and Chris Canty and new dt Brandon Williams,not to mention Michael Huff and Elam, we will be a top 5 defense again this year. Broncos will be surprised come opening day,with The Ravens winning it….again.

  • joeblow

    Considering the way some of you arrogant Denver boys are talking smack about other teams and whining about how you had the best team last year but got unjustly bounced from the playoffs, you better win the whole shebang this year or it’s really going to be ugly in the Rockies.