The Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl defense begins on Thursday night when they travel south to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Super Bowl champs said goodbye to two pillars of the franchise this summer in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, so it will be interesting to see who steps up to fill the leadership void on that side of the ball. Offensively, Joe Flacco is back, and he is rich.
The Bucs enter 2013 with something to prove. They looked like a playoff team at times, but their league-worst pass defense let them down at key moments, and they finished the season at 7-9 and on the outside looking in. The team addressed its need in the secondary by trading for star cornerback Darrelle Revis and drafting Johnthan Banks in the second round, but it remains to be seen whether this is the year the Bucs turn the corner.
Meet the Buccaneers
The Bucs probably swung the biggest trade of the offseason, acquiring cornerback Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets. Considering how bad Tampa's secondary was last year, it was a great move. Revis won't play in the preseason, but the team expects him to be ready to go in Week 1.
The Bucs used four of their six draft picks on defense, but did draft quarterback Mike Glennon, adding an interesting new element to the question of whether Josh Freeman is the long-term answer. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012, but threw 17 interceptions to go along with that production. There aren't any questions as to who will be running the ball for Tampa Bay though, as Doug Martin rushed for over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie last year.
Meet the Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens had a decent year last year by most people's standards. All they did was win the Super Bowl. They've had an eventful offseason too, with the retirement of Ray Lewis and a major reshuffling on defense. Gone are Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Bernard Pollard. In come Elvis Dumervil, Marcus Spears, Michael Huff, and high draft picks Matt Elam and Arthur Brown. Oh, and Joe Flacco signed a six year, $120 million contract that made him the highest paid player in the NFL.
Local Takes: Buccaneers
Sander Philipse from Bucs Nation is curious as to which cornerbacks will get time with the starters while Revis is still out:
Darrelle Revis won't play against the Baltimore Ravens, but who will? Leonard Johnson and Johnthan Banks seem to have their mitts on the starting job, but they could do with some extended playing time, too. Danny Gorrer and Michael Adams may have a shot at the nickel job -- or does Rashaan Melvin grab that? We really don't know. And then there's the chance that we'll see a lot of big nickel with three safeties instead of three cornerbacks.
Local Takes: Ravens
Jason Butt from Baltimore Beatdown thinks that with all the turnover on defense, it's time for Terrance Cody to step up or move on out of Baltimore:
Cody remains on the bubble, with Thursday's game being a chance for him to show he's improved against other competition. Cody's showed some fire in practice during camp but he hasn't returned to his 2011 form, where he was a regular starter getting a push along the defensive front.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
NFL is Cracking Down on Celebrations -- The NFL is now saying that spinning the ball is prohibited, seriously? http://t.co/6GiLGgb46l— Baltimore Beatdown (@BMoreBeatdown) August 7, 2013
@HolderStephen - Bucs beat writer for the Tampa Bay Times
Standing here at HOF with Blair Buswell who sculpted Sapp's bust. Gave a preview.. it will definitely have braids, per Warren's insistence— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) August 2, 2013
@RavensInsider - Ravens beat writer for the Baltimore Sun
New-look Ravens defense anxious to get on the field and 'hit somebody' Thursday http://t.co/ldg283hIFe— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) August 7, 2013
It's tough to predict preseason games. The Ravens seem like the easy pick here, but with so much turnover on defense, things could be a little out of sorts for them. Either way, backups are going to play most of this game. Let's go with ... [picks card out of hat]
Baltimore 23 - Tampa Bay 20
The Bucs are favored by a field goal at most betting services, according to Oddsshark.com.