- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Ravens in 2012.
Dream scenario (13-3): The Ravens come back more motivated after falling a couple plays short of getting to the Super Bowl. Baltimore takes care of its biggest distractions before the season by signing quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice to long-term deals. The Ravens go on to produce the best record in the AFC and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Flacco backs up his claim of being an elite quarterback and finally takes control of the offense. He has a reputation makeover similar to the one Eli Manning had. Flacco gets help in the passing game with wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Ed Dickson, who stretch the field even more in their second seasons as starters. Rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele is able to make the transition from college tackle to left guard, which is the biggest question mark on the Ravens' offensive line.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs gives the defense a big boost when the NFL's reigning defensive player of the year is able to return in early November from an Achilles injury. Rookie second-round pick Courtney Upshaw steps up to replace Jarret Johnson as the team's edge-setter on run defense. And Baltimore shuts down some of the best wide receivers in the NFL with the league's most impressive pair of cornerbacks in Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.
Nightmare scenario (7-9): Baltimore can't shake the crushing loss in the AFC Championship Game and fails to make the playoffs for the first time in the John Harbaugh era. The injury to Suggs is too tough to overcome, and Rice isn't the same player after skipping offseason workouts and training camp. Not being at the top of their game hurts the Ravens, who have the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL.
The offensive line shows some cracks with declining left tackle Bryant McKinnie and overhyped right tackle Michael Oher. Center Matt Birk begins to show his age (he turns 36 in July), and Baltimore fails to adequately replace Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs. The lack of consistency up front puts more pressure on Flacco, who is forced to rush and throws more interceptions than he has in the past. Anquan Boldin watches his receptions decrease for a third straight season, and Torrey Smith drops more deep passes than he catches.
Defensively, Suggs is able to return late in the season but he doesn't have the explosiveness to be effective. The Ravens drop out of the top 10 in defense for the first time since 2002 because Paul Kruger can't replace Suggs, Ray Lewis' play slows down with his age (37) and Ed Reed stays in a funk because he's unhappy with his contract.