OWINGS MILLS - At this point a year ago, the Baltimore Ravens were riding into the playoffs on the strength of their defense - a stingy, star-powered unit that propelled Baltimore to wins in seven of its final eight games and a No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
They were a team seemingly without any glaring holes.
Their Terrell Suggs-led pass rush ranked as the AFC's best at getting after opposing quarterbacks. Their Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis-led front seven ranked as the AFC's best at stopping the run. And their Lardarius Webb-led secondary ranked among the NFL's best at stopping the pass.
Offensively, Ray Rice rushed for 642 yards in the final five regular season games. Their offensive line was among the best in the NFL at protecting the quarterback during the second half of the season. And their Joe Flacco-led passing game had been inconsistent, but had shown glimpses of being an explosive unit.
They won eight of their 10 games against opponents that finished the regular season .500 or better and were victorious in each of their six matchups with teams that eventually made the playoffs.
It's a different Ravens team a year later.
Webb was lost early in the year to a season-ending knee injury. Lewis has been sidelined most of the year with a torn triceps. Ngata has been limited by injuries for much of the season. And Suggs missed the early part of the season due to a partial tear of his Achilles tendon and is now playing through a torn biceps.
The offense is relatively similar to a year ago - aside from some issues in pass protection that weren't as prevalent last season - but an injury-ravaged defense has proven vulnerable against the pass, struggled at times versus the run and had problems generating a consistent pass rush.
And after winning seven of its last eight regular season games last year, Baltimore dropped four of its final five regular season contests this season, nearly allowing a once firm grasp on the AFC North to slip away after starting the season 9-2.
Yet, with all of that said, there's reason for optimism. Flacco and the first-team offense excelled in their last extended action - posting a season-high 533 yards amid a 33-14 victory over the New York Giants - while the patchwork defense has played well in recent weeks - holding a potent Denver Broncos offense scoreless on six of its first eight possessions, limiting the Giants to 186 yards of total offense a week later and forcing punts on each of the Cincinnati Bengals' first five possessions Sunday.
"I feel great about where we are at," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I'm very excited about our team right now. I like us a lot. I've liked us all year. I've liked us when you guys haven't liked us.
"I like the fact that we've overcome a lot of adversity - both personal and as a team. I like the fact our guys stuck together through a lot of that. I think that's what makes a team what it is. I'm looking forward to seeing who we are for the next one game through however many games we are able to play."
But there are concerns.
The offense, especially the passing game, has been consistently inconsistent throughout the course of the season and the offensive line's ability to hold up in pass protection continues to be an issue. And then defensively, how does Baltimore's pass defense hold up against Andrew Luck and a highly ranked Indianapolis Colts passing attack and then possibly down the road against Peyton Manning or Tom Brady?
But, for all of the issues, Flacco did have six games he threw for 299 yards or more during the regular season, Rice and Bernard Pierce rushed for a combined 1,675 yards and 10 touchdowns, and the Ravens face an Indianapolis defense Sunday that finished the regular season ranked 29th against the pass and 21st versus the run.
And for as productive as Luck has been under center (4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns), he did toss 18 interceptions while the Colts' running game - with fifth round pick Vick Ballard as its lead running back - averaged a meager 3.8 yards per carry.
"It's a whole new season, and it all starts fresh," Harbaugh said. "It's the playoffs. We're all 0-0 at this point, and it's time to move on and play this part of the season."