In the span of a year, the Ravens' major question mark has gone from who's throwing the ball to who's catching it.
When quarterback Joe Flacco drops back to pass, his go-to receiver (Derrick Mason) is a 35-year-old whose offseason included shoulder surgery and a brief retirement. His deep threat (Mark Clayton) didn't play a down in the preseason because of a hamstring injury.
His third target (Kelley Washington) had one catch last season and joined the team in the middle of May after a tryout. His fourth option (Demetrius Williams) has finished the past two seasons on injured reserve.
If the Ravens fail to live up to their Super Bowl aspirations, some will say they dropped the ball when it came to evaluating their wide receivers.
"They're not that good," said Cris Carter, an ESPN analyst who was an eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. "If they get in a close game and the other team is just a little better, they will lose."
The Ravens' passing was the weakest part of a team that advanced to the AFC championship game last season. Their running ranked No. 4 in the NFL, and their run and pass defense finished in the top 3.
The Ravens were 28th in throwing the ball, the worst among last season's playoff teams. In fact, all four teams that ranked below the Ravens in passing (the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders) had double-digit losses.
"I think that group of receivers can use a little bit of an injection, an upgrade," said Keyshawn Johnson, a three-time Pro Bowl receiver who also works for ESPN. "If they feel we can get to the Super Bowl by going through Pittsburgh and New England, it's not by having a high-powered offense."
Most of the power players in the AFC have formidable receiving tandems: The New England Patriots have Randy Moss and Wes Welker; the Pittsburgh Steelers have Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes; the San Diego Chargers have Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers, as well as tight end Antonio Gates; and the Indianapolis Colts have Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez.
The only other contending AFC team with questionable receivers is the Tennessee Titans, who have Nate Washington and Justin Gage.
The Ravens, though, have repeatedly expressed confidence in Mason, Clayton, Washington and Williams.
"We think we have a group of wide receivers we can win with, that's for sure," coach John Harbaugh said. "Are we happy with it? In that sense, we're happy with it."
It was exactly a year ago when there were similar doubts about Flacco. The rookie established himself as the franchise quarterback by the end of the season, throwing for 2,971 yards and 14 touchdowns.
In the offseason, the Ravens fortified his protection, signing six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk in free agency and using a first-round pick on right tackle Michael Oher in the draft.
"The question is whether the Baltimore receivers can cooperate by getting open deep," said Ian Eagle, who will cover Sunday's game for CBS. That "will go a long way in determining whether or not the Ravens are ready to take that next step."
Passing on upgrades
The Ravens had several opportunities this offseason to upgrade at wide receiver. But they passed on free agents Torry Holt, Laveranues Coles, Joey Galloway and Terrell Owens. They also didn't trade for the Arizona Cardinals' Anquan Boldin or Denver Broncos' Brandon Marshall.
"One thing I got to respect about Ozzie [Newsome, general manager], he has a philosophy as far as the team. They want to keep people off Ray" Lewis, Carter said. "There's only a certain number of dollars out of the pie for wide receivers. With wide receiver, you get what you pay for. You don't spend money on them, that's what you get."
Johnson jumped in during the conference call, saying, "You want a bum, you pay a bum."
Mason has been one of the NFL's most consistent receivers, catching at least 79 passes in six of the past seven seasons. But his yards per catch last season (13.0) ranked 42nd in the NFL.
Clayton was the Ravens' best downfield target, recording a career-best yards per catch average last season (17.0). But he has surpassed 48 catches only once in his career.
Washington hasn't had more than 10 receptions in any of the past four seasons, and Williams hasn't played in more than nine games since his rookie season.
Qadry Ismail, a receiver on the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning team who is also an analyst for ESPN, said the Ravens lack a No. 1 receiver but have several "high-level No. 2s."
"No. 1 receivers are explosive and big-play guys," Ismail said. "But [these Ravens receivers] are so productive that you will be in trouble if you sleep on them. Go ahead and don't put attention to this receiving corps, they will hurt you."
Something to prove
Like the 2000 team, Ismail said, the receivers could rally around the fact that they have something to prove.