Ravens are ahead of the Steelers, but change can come quickly
By Alan Robinson
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
NEW ORLEANS It can change that quickly.
Two months and three days since the Steelers won at Baltimore behind Charlie Batch, the Ravens despite losing four of five to end the season are Super Bowl champions.
This has been a long journey, and I don't think it would be quite as enjoyable as it would have been if we hadn't gone through all this stuff, quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco said Monday.
With the Steelers facing major issues at wide receiver, running back and possibly cornerback, the question is whether the Ravens by winning their second Super Bowl have lengthened the distance that already existed between the two rivals.
When the Ravens won their other Super Bowl in 2000, they were 12-4 and the Steelers were third at 9-7. But a season later, the Steelers went 13-3 to the Ravens' 10-6 and beat Baltimore in the playoffs.
So how do the Ravens and Steelers match up right now for 2013?
Flacco will be back with the Ravens, even if it costs them about $20 million. He said Monday he wants to be a Raven for life. Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls.
The Steelers are coming off their second-worst rushing season in 30 years and don't have a clear-cut lead runner. The Ravens bring back two Pro Bowlers: Ray Rice and fullback Vonta Leach.
Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones all return on a Ravens offense on which only left tackle Bryant McKinnie is an unrestricted free agent. The Steelers might lose top downfield threat Mike Wallace.
The Steelers could lose two of their steadiest players regardless of position in Max Starks and Ramon Foster, leaving them with potentially their most inexperienced lines in years. Guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda, center Matt Birk and right tackle Michael Oher all return on the Ravens line.
The Steelers are expected to shed Casey Hampton, which puts even more pressure on Ziggy Hood, Cam Heyward and Steve McLendon to produce. All the Ravens' starters are back.
Once the Steelers' strength, they need LaMarr Woodley to have a bounce back year and James Harrison to stay healthy. Larry Foote may leave. For the Ravens, 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis will retire, and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is an unrestricted free agent.
The Ravens face a potential shakeup with cornerback Cary Williams and safety Ed Reed both unrestricted free agents. Cornerback Corey Graham and safety Bernard Pollard return. Steelers safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are getting older but both figure to start next season unless a surprise move is made. Cornerback Keenan Lewis could leave as an unrestricted free agent.
The punters and kickers for both teams are under contract.