I can't remember ever picking a team I covered to win the Super Bowl. I didn't when I covered the Ravens in 2000. But I did this year. Why?
It starts with the defense. This defense already looks better than last season's. It's tremendously strong up the middle (Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed). It has excellent speed at the corners (Fabian Washington and Domonique Foxworth).
It has at least five players who are at or near the top of their position in the NFL: Terrell Suggs, Ngata, Gregg, Lewis and Reed. And Trevor Pryce and Jarret Johnson are playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level.
Tavares Gooden is the only player who hasn't established himself in the league, but barring injury, it won't take long. This defense has a chance to be as dominating as the Super Bowl defense from 2000. The depth is very good across the board.
On offense, you have to like what the Ravens have done with the line. Michael Oher gives them a strong, quick right tackle who should go to Pro Bowls. Jared Gaither has the same bright future at left tackle. Though the team lost center Jason Brown, it replaced him with a better short-term solution in Matt Birk. The Ravens have versatile interior linemen in Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda and Chris Chester.
That line will protect Joe Flacco and ensure the Ravens have a better running game this season. A better running game means a better passing season for Flacco. Wide receiver is the only position at which the Ravens appear thin, but they will use Ray Rice and Todd Heap a lot in the passing game. Don't forget, they considered playing Reed as a receiver last year in a pinch. The mind boggles at what he might be able to do to defensive backs.
Kicker Steve Hauschka looks like a keeper at a critical position. Sam Koch is among the best punters in the game. If Chris Carr can give the team better field position on returns, it'll be an upgrade.
What's not to like? The Ravens have to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to earn their way. But there is a sense of commitment on this team that few ever have. It's getting late for Lewis to get his second ring and for Reed to get his first. Watching the Ravens work this summer, I had the feeling they would seize this opportunity, just as the 2000 team did.