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After winning the Super Bowl in 2012, cap issues and a retirement-driven roster overhaul caused the Baltimore Ravens in-depthto slide to .500 in 2013. So Baltimore sat and watched the playoffs from home for the first time in several years.

But those issues may be a thing of the past. The team has made Ozzie Newsome-like strategic additions to strengthen the offensive line and the receiving corps and the defense in 2013 was actually statistically better than it was during the Ray Lewis-led Super Bowl run.

So have the Ravens done enough to recapture dominance in the AFC North? And can Joe Flacco regain form and lead another deep playoff run? Kyle Casey, a contributing writer for Russell Street Report, shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: Coming off of a Super Bowl win and a large roster turnover what are your thoughts on the 8-8 season? Continue reading

Pittsburgh crawled out to an 0-4 start in 2013 with three of those losses coming to non-playoff teams, a quarter-pole in-depthmark that left the Steelers behind the eight-ball right away. But the team rallied, finishing 8-8 for the second consecutive year and playing the season’s final week with playoffs on the line.

So what are the Steelers right now? Are they the bottom feeder that got off to the terrible start or the up-and-comer that finished 8-4? And how far are they from making another run into the postseason? Neal Coolong, managing editor of Behind the Steel Curtain, says the team has put some salary cap issues behind it and might not be far from getting back in that mix. Here’s what he had to say.

Zoneblitz: The Steelers got off to a rocky 0-4 start but rebounded to finish 8-8, just a game from the playoffs. What is your assessment of the 2013 team? Continue reading

In 2012, Chicago finished 10-6, one game out of the playoffs. The Bears fired head coach Lovie Smith and hired Marcin-depth Trestman, who led the team to an 8-8 season – one-half game from making the playoffs.

There was a lot to like about the Bears’ direction in 2013, particularly on offense, where the combination of QBs Jay Cutler and Josh McCown teamed with RB Matt Forte and WRs Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall to create a dynamic threat. But Chicago was uncharacteristically putrid on defense, with injuries and age tearing down a typically strong unit.

So what is it going to take for the Bears to get back to the postseason and make a run at bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Chicago? Jake Perper, founder and head writer at Bears Backer, shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: The Bears were in the race until the final week but couldn’t close it out and ended 8-8. What was your overall assessment of the 2013 season? Continue reading

The St. Louis Rams finished fourth in the NFC West in 2013, but that’s not as bad as it might sound. Despite sharing the in-depthdivision with San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona, the Rams finished 7-9 – despite losing QB Sam Bradford early in the season to a torn ACL.

The Rams have shown steady potential since Jeff Fisher took over as head coach two seasons ago and, with two picks in the first round of the upcoming draft, the team has the chance to add two more top-notch pieces to a solid and growing core.

So how far are the Rams from making their own leap from scrap heap to contender? Blaine Grisak, co-editor of Ramblin’ Fan, says this team isn’t far from joining the rest of its division mates and making that very push.

Zoneblitz: The Rams finished 7-9 in probably the toughest division in football. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

The 2013 New York Giants entered the season with high hopes and a division that was ripe for the taking. in-depthBut then an 0-6 start effectively knocked them out of the running for the postseason before the campaign was halfway home.

So what went wrong? How did this proud organization miscalculate its standing so badly? And what do the Giants have to do to get back on track in a 2014 NFC East that most would likely still say has no obvious dominant team?

Ed Valentine, editor in chief of the Big Blue View, joined us to share some thoughts on what went wrong and what fixes are needed in the year ahead. Here’s what he had to say:

Zoneblitz:  The Giants started 0-6, then rebounded to finish 7-9. How would you assess the 2013 season? Continue reading

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