The Ravens will open their season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday with an unsteady mixture of hope and trepidation. They have enough talent to be good and they have enough unresolved issues to be in a compeltely different place at this time next year.
Here's the upside: Joe Flacco will take the field with a diverse set of receivers and a deep group of running backs and the Marc Trestman Show will take the AFC North by storm. The Ravens have the offensive weapons and enough time in Trestman's system now to put a lot of points on the scoreboard and take time off the clock.
The defense will be younger, quicker and tougher, with just the right mix of veteran leaders to help it develop into a unit worthy of the Ravens' storied defensive history.
Of course, this is the rough-and-tumble NFL, where perfect scenarios are rare. The Ravens found that out the hard way when they opened training camp a year ago dreaming of another Super Bowl and woke up screaming. Their dismal, injury-riddled 5-11 season will serve as the prologue for whatever storyline develops.
So, here's the downside: Well, not the worst-case scenario, which was pretty much what we all saw last year. The Ravens fell victim to both an unprecedented rash of injuries to cornerstone players and a strange front-loaded travel schedule that threw them out of whack for the entire season.
This year's team can't help but be healthier and the schedule obviously is more conducive to them getting off to a decent start, but they might be banking too heavily on a large number of veteran players whose potential this season would be questionable even if some of them weren't coming off season-ending injuries.
Overall, the Ravens have gotten a lot younger, but the outcome of this season still will depend heavily on how well Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith Sr. come back from Achilles surgery and how much newcomer veterans Eric Weddle and Mike Wallace have left in the tank.
That's a lot to hope for, but the upside is very up if everything comes together to the same degree that it all came apart in 2015.
The thing that makes this wide range of possible outcomes so unsettling is that what happens this year is going to have a big impact on which direction this franchise goes in the future. The consequences of another losing season could be dramatic unless owner Steve Bisciotti has lost some of his competitive fire.
If you recall, he made it clear after the Ravens finished 8-8 in 2013 that there would be hell to pay if they didn't have a winning season the following year. They bounced back with a strong performance and came within a few points of reaching the AFC Championship game in 2014 despite the organizational turmoil spawned by the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal.
Last January, Bisciotti was more understanding of the team's bad outcome in 2015 because anyone could see that the circumstances of their 5-11 season were out of anyone's control. It's hard to imagine him being quite so forgiving if the Ravens fall out of playoff contention again this season.
The previous time the Ravens were coming off a losing season, Bisciotti fired Brian Billick after his ninth season as head coach and replaced him with John Harbaugh. This will be Harbaugh's ninth season, but the situations are not necessarily comparable because Harbaugh has had much more postseason success than his predecessor and he and Bisciotti appear to have a closer personal bond.
That doesn't mean, however, the Bisciotti will put up with losing for very long.
This year's team might still be a mystery, but the strength of the Ravens organization is not. The franchise has risen out of crisis before and could be poised to do so again if its evolving offensive line can keep Flacco upright, avoid a serious depth depletion at the offensive skills positions and develop a winning chemistry in the defensive backfield.