PALM DESERT, Calif. -- A Dallas reporter walked up to Ted Marchibroda's table at the AFC coaches' breakfast during the NFL owners meetings last week, put his tape recorder down and asked, "Ted, are you the team to beat?"
It was a reference to Marchibroda's reputation for optimism, and he played right along as he laughed.
"I think we are [the team to beat]. On the record. This isn't off the record, either. I'll guarantee it. We're not talking our division. We're going all the way," Marchibroda said.
The reporter then said on a serious note, "What are your expectations?"
Another reporter said, "Those are his expectations."
Marchibroda wouldn't go quite that far, but he came close.
"I feel, really, that everybody has a shot. I really do. I think the last two years have proven that, with Indianapolis, Carolina and Jacksonville," he said.
Those three teams -- including an Indianapolis team coached by Marchibroda in 1995 -- made the conference title games the past two years even though the last two were second-year expansion teams.
Marchibroda is not discouraged despite last year's 4-12 record and the loss of three of his top seven offensive linemen -- Steve Everitt, Tony Jones and Herman Arvie. The team also has yet to improve one of the worst defenses in the league.
To start with, Marchibroda says the offensive line will be improved this year despite the losses of Everitt, Jones and Arvie.
"The starting unit will be stronger than what it was last year. It may lack a little depth, but [Jonathan] Ogden is a better left tackle than what we had, and [Wally] Williams is a better center than Everitt," he said.
That evaluation raised a few eyebrows since Everitt just got a rich contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.
But Marchibroda said that though Everitt had the edge in experience and team leadership, Williams is the better athlete.
This isn't just his public spin, either. Owner Art Modell said he was impressed when Marchibroda called him at 7: 30 a.m. the day after Everitt signed in Philadelphia and wasn't wringing his hands.
"He said Everitt's a good player, but 'we'll do better,' " Modell said. "That's the kind of guy Ted is."
On defense, the Ravens may no longer be able to draft Florida State defensive lineman Peter Boulware now that Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning is staying in school, and they missed out on free agents Ray Seals and Raylee Johnson, but Marchibroda still says the defense will improve.
He said he expects Rob Burnett and Anthony Pleasant, who has to be signed, to stay healthy and Larry Webster to return from a drug suspension to improve the line. He hopes to sign Broderick Thomas at one outside linebacker spot and have his first-round pick or Mike Caldwell play the other one.
"We intend to improve the linebacker corps and, hopefully, have the defensive line healthy," Marchibroda said.
Marchibroda also says the intangibles will be better this year now that he's had a year with the team.
"I think the overall team spirit was improved. I think we're going into this season with a team attitude, and I think that's a tremendous thing," he said.
After listening to Marchibroda, the Dallas reporter smiled and said, "You've convinced me. I'm picking the Ravens."
If the Ravens are as good as Marchibroda says they'll be, they'll be the surprise team of the year.
Upon further review
The debate on bringing back instant replay to decide some close calls didn't end last week, even though the proposal fell three votes short of passing.
Charley Casserly, the Washington Redskins' general manager and one of the leading proponents, said he'll bring it up again next year.
All it will take is one bad call that plays a major role in deciding a playoff game to put the issue back on the front burner.
A bad call that costs the New York Jets a game may persuade Bill Parcells, the coach, to persuade Bill Parcells, the general manager, to change his vote. Parcells didn't like the idea of giving up a timeout, especially if the challenge was upheld, so he voted against it.
Philadelphia Eagles coach Ray Rhodes even accused the anti-replay faction on the competition committee of putting together a proposal that wouldn't pass.
"The people on the competition committee put so many holes in it, there was no way it would pass. The old regime worded it the way they wanted it worded. They worded it so that it would be tough to get it passed," he said.
He counts New York Giants general manager George Young, Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay and Bengals president Mike Brown as members of the old regime. All are replay opponents.
"I think a lot of things need to be reviewed. I'm not just talking about instant replay. Look at that committee. See the guys trying to keep the game at a standstill. Because there are guys trying to keep it at a standstill. That's got to be reviewed," Rhodes said.
Young's reply is that there was enough in the proposal for the teams that wanted replay to pass it if they really wanted it.
Meanwhile, the replay debate will rage on.