There's a lot of optimism in the air about the 2006 NFL season. Ravens and Redskins fans both think their teams can make a serious run at a championship, and the media seems to agree to some extent. ESPN.com's Jason Whitlock picked the teams to face each other in the Super Bowl, with the Ravens as eventual champions.
I'm not really that optimistic, to be honest. Both teams play difficult schedules as a result of their stacked divisions, and I would even go as far as to say it's more likely that one of the two teams will miss the playoffs than it is that one of them will make it to the Super Bowl, let alone both.
Both teams do have their strengths and deficiencies, and both teams' fans can expect some trying times this season. So here's my not-so-expert analysis, and I've included some links to get you as up-to-date as possible before this weekend's games:
2005 Record: 6-10, 3rd in AFC North
2006 Ravens Toolkit
Team Stats: 2006 preseason | 2005
Baltimore Sun Ravens Section
• ESPN: 2006 Ravens Preview
• CBS Sportsline: Ravens – Five Things To Know
• AP: McNair provides Ravens with optioins and hope
• SportingNews: Ravens Team Report
The Ravens seem to have filled their biggest need by ending the Kyle Boller experiment and going out and getting a legit starting QB in Steve McNair, but that's not to say there aren't still question marks. Looking ahead to the 2006 Ravens feels strangely similar to how I felt in March looking ahead to the 2006 Orioles season. Too many "need-to-happens."
For the O's it was all about young pitching emerging and a couple of new hitters either breaking out or reverting to form. Few of the things that needed to happen did happen, and the O's have stunk up the joint.
The Ravens "need-to-happens" are big also.
Steve McNair and Todd Heap need to stay healthy. Jamal Lewis needs to return to form. The offensive line needs to step it up.
The defense is going to be good, there's no question about that, but adding McNair doesn't answer all the questions on offense. If we've learned anything from the Orioles, it's that hoping players "return to form" is a setup for disappointment.
But Jamal Lewis was hurt last year, he's only 27, and McNair should be good enough that he can punish teams for teeing up on Jamal all game.
But the problem, in my mind, is that the other "ifs" all depend on the offensive line. If the O-line gets pushed around, McNair's not going to stay healthy and Jamal Lewis is not going to return to form. It's as simple as that. And there doesn't seem to be any indication that the right side of the line with Tony Pashos and Keydrick Vincent won't get pushed around.
The left side is strong with longtime Ravens Jonathan Ogden and Edwin Mulitalo, but can the veterans stand the test of having plays run to that side all day? If the answer is yes, the other questions may just be answered.
I'm excited for this Ravens season but I think there will be some ups and downs. Most of all I'm really looking forward to an offense not run by Kyle Boller or Anthony Wright.
2005 Record: 10-6, 2nd in NFC East
Defeated Tampa Bay in Wild Card round, lost to Seattle in Divisional playoffs.
It seems like every offseason the Redskins find what they think will be that one piece that completes their offensive puzzle and makes the team a Super Bowl contender.
Two years ago it was Clinton Portis and Mark Brunell. Last year it was Santana Moss. This year it's Antwaan Randle El.
Yet after a dismal 0-4 preseason during which the offense was useless and Clinton Portis injured himself tackling a player who had just made an interception, is this year really any different?
The Redskins were 10-6 last year on solid defense and flashes of a great offense, the most memorable being a pair of late, long strikes from Brunell to Moss that reversed a 13-0 defecit with less than four minutes remaining in Dallas in week two last year.
The 'Skins went on an absolute tear to end the regular season, winning out after starting the season 5-6. During the five game win streak they averaged over 28 points a game.
But the offense spun its wheels in the playoffs, gaining only 120 yards in a first round playoff win over Tampa Bay, then only 140 in the first three quarters against eventual NFC Super Bowl representative Seattle.
The concern wasn't that great, but then the preseason started. Portis partially dislocated his shoulder early in the first game and the Redskins offense looked terrible. They only managed to accumulate 27 points over the four preseason games, none of them from the starting offense.
Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders says the preseason offense wasn't indicative of what we'll see come Monday night, but if there's any kind of learning curve to Saunders' offense that was so successful for the Chiefs prior to this season, the team better get on it quickly. The Giants still look strong after winning the division in 2005, the Cowboys have looked good with Drew Bledsoe, Terry Glenn and Julius Jones and will only get more dangerous if Terrell Owens gets over himself and into the lineup, and the Eagles are poised for a comeback after a down year marred by the T.O. saga.
If the 'Skins spend any time stuck in the starting gate, they're going to have a difficult time playing catch-up.