With Tom Brady's New England Patriots and Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos set to meet in the AFC championship game Sunday afternoon, 12 of the past 13 Super Bowls after this season will have featured Brady, Manning or the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger. The one exception? The Joe Flacco-led Ravens in 2012. I'm sure this won't be the only time you'll be reading that fact this week.
I'd imagine Ravens fans are pretty relieved that the Steelers' season is over and that they don't have to choose between rooting for the Patriots or the Steelers on Sunday. But it couldn't have been too comforting to watch the Steelers nearly get to the AFC championship game without several of their top players. The Steelers will get back Le'Veon Bell, one of the NFL's best running backs; Antonio Brown, perhaps the league's best receiver; and Maurkice Pouncey, a perennial Pro Bowl selection at center.
It gets even scarier when you consider how much improvement the Steelers' young defense showed throughout the season. Young receivers Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates are only getting better, too. With the turnover on the Cincinnati Bengals' coaching staff and the Ravens coming off a 5-11 season, the Steelers are your way-too-early AFC North favorites for 2016.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome's goal is to build a team that can beat the Steelers and Bengals. Ravens officials bring that up all the time when they discuss the selection of running back Jamal Lewis with the fifth overall draft pick in 2000. The Steelers had Jerome Bettis. Newsome felt the Ravens needed a big and powerful back to have an edge in the tough divisional contests, and Lewis proved to be exactly that.
If you apply that team-building logic to April's draft, it certainly supports the Ravens' using the sixth overall pick on a cornerback, like Florida State's Jalen Ramsey or Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III. The Steelers are stacked at wide receiver, and Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green isn't going anywhere, either. The Ravens secondary will have to get much better to deal with those teams.
The talented Ramsey has a Ravens connection: He has been working out with former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. If you believe the early mock drafts, Ramsey will be taken before the Ravens are on the clock. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. even said last week that he expects some teams to have Ramsey ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on their draft boards. I'd have to think the success of last year's first-round cornerbacks, a group that included the Kansas City Chiefs' Marcus Peters, Houston Texans' Kevin Johnson (River Hill) and Dallas Cowboys' Byron Jones, will only help the cause of this year's top cornerback prospects.
There were a lot of questions this past week about why Ravens Ring of Honor member Ed Reed will get his first coaching job with the Buffalo Bills, as assistant defensive backs coach, and not the team he played with for all but one of his 12 NFL seasons. I haven't spoken with a Ravens official about it, so I don't know whether there were discussions with Reed about joining John Harbaugh's staff.
What I do know is that Reed is extremely close with Bills coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. What I also know is that plans had been well underway for Harbaugh to hire longtime NFL assistant Leslie Frazier as the Ravens secondary coach before Reed's new position was announced.
Did that have something to do with the Ravens' not hiring one of their best all-time players? Perhaps. It might have been tough for Frazier to establish his way of doing things and his influence on the defensive backs if Reed, who is idolized by many Ravens, was around every day. For as good a player, leader and mentor as he was, Reed also likes to do things his way. I'd imagine Ryan would be a little more flexible than Harbaugh.
Possible home for Osemele
After watching the Seattle Seahawks get manhandled up front Sunday in their loss to the Carolina Panthers, one of my first thoughts was: Boy, they really could use Kelechi Osemele. Two of the Seahawks' starting offensive linemen, left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy, are unrestricted free agents, and Seattle coach Pete Carroll loves guys who play with attitude and physicality, like Osemele. I'd imagine Osemele will have his share of suitors, and the Seahawks have a ton of offseason questions to address. It's too early to know whether Seattle will be interested in Osemele, but it seems to be a good fit. The Houston Texans would fit as well, and Osemele is a Houston native.
Speaking of the Panthers, former Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher and tight end Ed Dickson have a shot at winning another Super Bowl. Both players were key members of the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII-winning team who became much-maligned players in Baltimore because of their inconsistency. But both have found homes in Carolina and contributed in Sunday's victory.