Ravens Will Have Trouble Making Playoffs Next Season, Never Mind Repeating as Super Bowl Champs

Super Bowl Ravens Celebration FootballThe streets of Baltimore were covered in purple and black on Tuesday as fans flocked to M&T Bank Stadium to help the Ravens commemorate their second Super Bowl title. But while the newly minted champions bask in the glory of the present, the future doesn’t look quite as bright.

The last time a Super Bowl champion repeated that feat the next season was the New England Patriots eight years ago, and the quarterback who won those titles is still at large. In fact, of the 94 teams to reach the Super Bowl since the era began in 1967, only eight teams have repeated as champions and just 11 have even returned to the game the following season. So, a repeat performance in New Jersey next year seems unlikely.

Adding even more doubt to the Ravens’ postseason aspirations for next season, no champion has won a postseason game the following season since the Patriots’ repeat in 2004. Not to mention that just six of the past 10 champions have even made the playoffs that next year.

Now, every team is different and this Ravens squad has a young core with tons of talent locked up for the future. But they also have some major issues awaiting them this offseason, of which Ray Lewis‘ retirement ranks near the bottom of the list.

Just to reflect on Lewis’ impact this season, including the playoffs the Ravens were 9-1 with Lewis and just 5-5 without him. So, there’s that. Then comes the inherent issues with this roster moving forward.

Entering the offseason, the Ravens currently project at $5 million over the salary cap for the 2013 season, and that’s even without Joe Flacco‘s certain salary bump which even with the franchise tag would be a lofty $14.6 million. So, general manager Ozzie Newsome definitely has some work ahead of him. First on that list is dealing with the long list of free agents ready to hit the market.

The Ravens have 13 impending unrestricted free agents and a bevy of guys on the restricted market, many of whom made a significant impact on the team’s Super Bowl run. The unrestricted list is highlighted by linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams, safety Ed Reed and left tackle Bryant McKinnie, while the restricted players include tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson and defensive lineman Arthur Jones. With so many players in need of new deals, some of them surely won’t be back in Baltimore next season and the Ravens’ roster could see a serious overhaul.

In order to keep the core of this team intact, Newsome may have to make some gutsy and unpopular decisions. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones both played a major role in the Super Bowl victory, but with the pair combined to account for almost $12.5 million in salary space next year they could be cap casualties this offseason.

There are a multitude of issues facing the Ravens, so don’t expect to see the same Super Bowl contender taking the field in Baltimore next season. Newsome is a great talent evaluator and a terrific money manager, but this situation appears just too complicated for even him to counter.

Not to say that the Ravens won’t be competitive in 2013, because they will. Anytime you have a quarterback with the skills of Flacco, a running back with the elusiveness of Ray Rice and a premier defender like Terrell Suggs, you are going to compete at a high level. But don’t expect the same sort of success from next year’s Ravens as we were made witness to this season.

The Super Bowl was a perfect way for Lewis to cement his legacy and John Harbaugh to begin his own, but this was a do-or-die year for the Ravens. Next year won’t be quite as promising.

The Bengals are building something special in Cincinnati and the Steelers won’t settle for another third-place finish in the AFC North. The Ravens have their work cut out for them this offseason and the regular season that follows will be just as daunting.

So, while you shouldn’t count out the now defending Super Bowl champs, they do have quite the difficult journey ahead of them. One that might not even have playoffs in the plans.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.