It's too early to throw the Ravens a Super Bowl parade

Maybe it's time to cool your jets, and I'm not talking about the guys on "Hard Knocks" who are cooling their heels until the Ravens arrive at the brand-new Meadowlands Stadium for the opener of the regular season Monday night.

This could well be the year of the


. ESPN The Magazine certainly thinks so and has gone out on a purple-and-black limb to pick this year's winner of the Lombardi Trophy. "Monday Night Football" analyst Ron Jaworski is on board, picking the Ravens to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl.

That's nice. I think the consensus of the experts at ESPN last year was the Pittsburgh Steelers. The year before, it was the Cowboys. My point being that predictions are always a tricky business, especially in a sport that puts such a premium on parity, so it might be a little early to buy those nonrefundable plane tickets to Dallas for the first week in February.


Coming from me — the eternal optimist and resident Orioles Kool-Aid bather — that ought to tell you something.

The Ravens are a legitimate contender. There's no question about that. The addition of go-to wide receiver Anquan Boldin gives the offense a new dimension and enhances the possibility that Joe Flacco will take another big step forward in his development as an elite NFL quarterback. The Ravens continue to have great depth at running back and again will have one of best run defenses in the league.

It's not hard to envision them doing great things after back-to-back postseason runs in the first two years of the John Harbaugh era, but let's not get carried away.

To get to the Super Bowl –—much less win it — you've got to be both lucky and good. The Ravens are definitely good, but they have been anything but lucky over the course of this preseason. Top draft choice Sergio Kindle fell down two flights of stairs right before training camp and might not show up on the field this year. Domonique Foxworth tore up his knee during a noncontact walkthrough the day before the first full-squad workout. New receiver Donte' Stallworth broke his foot in the third preseason game.

That's a lot of early misfortune for a team that caught a pretty tough early-season schedule. The Ravens open against the Jets on the road and then face the defending 2009 AFC North champion Bengals off a short week in Cincinnati. They come back to M&T Bank Stadium for what appears to be a soft home opener against the Cleveland Browns, then play two of their next three games on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots.

I'll tell you this: If they come out of that stretch .500 or better — and no worse off physically — they should have a smooth ride to a 10-win regular season or better, but that's going to be a very tall order in the wake of all those preseason setbacks.

Remember, we still don't know when and how much safety Ed Reed is going to play, and there still is room to wonder just how well the offensive line will perform against the tough defenses the Ravens will see over the next month.

Of course, things are tough all over in the NFL. Every team is dealing with something that could cast a cloud over the season, and general manager Ozzie Newsome has moved decisively over the past few weeks to plug holes at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield. The Ravens have very good depth at the offensive skill positions, especially with the addition of veteran quarterback Marc Bulger and the arrival this week of veteran wide-out T.J. Houshmandzadeh. They'll move the ball with their three-headed running game and what should be an improved vertical passing game.


But that's not enough to make them a Super Bowl favorite — and they aren't. The selected media predictions are comforting, but the people who really make their living sizing up that sort of thing aren't quite as sold on the Ravens.

The oddsmakers have them as the seventh-most-likely team to win the Lombardi Trophy this year, and No. 3 behind the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers to emerge from the AFC and play for the title at the new Cowboys Stadium on Feb. 6.

Can't really complain. Those odds mean that the Ravens figure to be right in the thick of it come the playoffs, and — truly — anything can happen at that point.

Will they be one of the elite teams at that point? We'll have a better idea when they get back from New England in about six weeks.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander.
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