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In Depth 2015: Baltimore Ravens

Never write off the Ravens. After a Super Bowl championship send legend LB Ray Lewis into retirement, Baltimore in-depthlost several other players to salary cap woes and missed the playoffs. But it didn’t take long to rebound.

Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh combined to put together a solid group in 2014, and Joe Flacco continued his climb toward the top level of NFL QBs during a 10-6 season that culminated in win over rival Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs.

The Ravens came up short the next week in their efforts to knock off the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots, but the team also served notice that it wasn’t staying down for long. Can this bunch make another leap forward and contend for a deeper run in 2015? Kyle Casey, a contributing writer at Russell Street Report, provides some insight.

Zoneblitz: After a year out of the playoffs, Baltimore went 10-6 and advanced to the second round of the postseason. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers in 2014 didn’t match the 12-4 regular season mark put up a year earlier. But despite salary in-depthcap woes and several free agent losses, the team did finish strong, capturing the NFC South for the second consecutive year with a 7-8-1 mark. And, unlike the previous year, the 2015 Panthers won a playoff game.

So hopes are high heading into 2016 that franchise QB Cam Newton can continue his growth and that the pass defense improves, getting Carolina’s defense back close to the level it reached in 2014.

Can the Panthers take the next step and challenge for a Super Bowl appearance? Or will the roar dissipate in 2015? Ken Dye, a writer at Carolina Cat Chronicles, shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: The Panthers won the NFC South, but at an underwhelming 7-8-1 record. They did win a playoff game before bowing out. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Arizona Cardinals

No team started the 2014 season faster than the Arizona Cardinals, finished the first two-and-a-half months of the in-depthseason at 9-1. But a spate of injuries, particularly at the QB position, conspired to make the rest of the season a challenge.

But this once beleaguered franchise has won 21 games now in two seasons, has put together a solid defense and may be putting together the parts to make another run. Can Carson Palmer team with the defense to give the team the boost it needs to take it to the next level? Or is there another bottoming out on the way? Scott Allen, editor of Raising Zona, shares his insights.

Zoneblitz: The Cardinals were great at the start, then started losing QBs and fell apart late, losing in round one of the playoffs. What’s your assessment of the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Detroit Lions

The days of woeful football in Detroit are over. The Lions finished 11-5 in 2014, putting forth the second-most wins in-depththe team has produced in a season since 1970. The season ended with a disappointing first round playoff loss, but signs are pointing up.

Still, there are issues heading into 2015. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are gone off of what was a top-notch defensive line. And offensively the offensive line has not sufficiently protected Matthew Stafford in recent years.

With free agency signings like Haloti Ngata and draft picks like Laken Tomlinson, however, optimism is high in the Motor City. Can the Lions take the next step? Or is this good team going to take a step back toward the pack in a competitive NFC North? Alex Reno, a writer with Pride of Detroit, shares his insights.

Zoneblitz: Detroit went 11-5 in 2014, the second most wins the team has had in a season since 1970, but lost in the first round of the playoffs, extending that drought to 1991. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Pittsburgh Steelers

in-depthExpectations were middle-of-the-road for Pittsburgh heading into 2014 and middle-of-the-road is what the team produced through the first three-quarters of the season. But a 7-5 start gave way to an impressive four-game win streak – including a two-game sweep of Cincinnati, which had led the division at 8-3-1 heading into the last week of November.

The streak propelled Pittsburgh to a division title. And while an injury to Le’Veon Bell hamstrung the Steelers in a first-round playoff loss to Baltimore, the team certainly served notice that they were again a force in the NFC North.

So can the aging Ben Roethlisberger keep up his assault on NFL defenses? Can the defense take another step under new coordinator Keith Butler? And can this team contend for yet another AFC Championship and Lombardi Trophy? Or was the December run a mirage? Neal Coolong, editor of the new USA Today site The Steelers Wire, shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: Pittsburgh went 11-5 and made the first round of the playoffs before getting beat. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

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