What will we learn in 2013?

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Can John Harbaugh and the Ravens maintain their grip on the Lombardi Trophy?

It's the ultimate rematch. The Baltimore Ravens open the 2013 season on the road at the Denver Broncos, the team they beat in the division round of the playoffs en route to winning the Super Bowl.

You remember that game. The Joe Flacco bomb to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation that tied the game. The Peyton Manning interception in overtime that gave the Ravens another shot. The 47-yard Justin Tucker field goal that kept Ray Lewis' stellar career alive. It was a thriller and a classic. And the Broncos haven't forgotten it.

Both teams look different now. The Ravens have revamped their defense. The Broncos have added another playmaker on offense in Wes Welker. Denver will be without its top two defenders from last year, Elvis Dumervil, who is now with the Ravens, and Von Miller, who is serving a six-game suspension. Both losses are big.

Dumervil has settled in with Baltimore and likes what he's found there.

"It doesn't feel like I'm on a team of guys that talks about its Super Bowl championship," he said. "It starts with the guys up top, and then it comes down to the players. We just have to take care of business."

Starting on Thursday night on the road against the team they beat eight months ago.

The journey to North Jersey, site of Super Bowl XLVIII, begins this week. What will we find when we finally get there?

1. Can the Super Bowl champs repeat?

This is always a pertinent question this time of year, and popular opinion is that the Ravens lost too much in the offseason to be able to make another run. Lewis is gone. Ed Reed is gone. Anquan Boldin is gone. Matt Birk is gone.

Coach John Harbaugh has heard the noise about all the personnel losses. He isn't immune to the criticism. But Harbaugh feels that the Ravens will be younger, faster and more aggressive on defense. He likes his new linebackers, Dumervil and Daryl Smith. He thinks that even without Boldin and injured tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens will be able to throw over the top of people and run the football. And Harbaugh thinks the newly minted Flacco is poised for a big year.

No team since the 2004 Patriots has repeated as Super Bowl champs. The Ravens certainly could.

2. Now that he has been cleared, what will we see from RG III?

AP Photo/David Drapkin

Robert Griffin III's first live action since his playoff knee injury will come in the Redskins' opener Monday night.

The knee, the knee, the knee. It has been all about Robert Griffin III's surgically repaired knee, and rightfully so. It was a big deal, given how Griffin went down in the playoffs against Seattle, playing on a shaky knee and a chopped-up field.

But after an arduous rehabilitation and a cautious approach to the preseason, Griffin is ready to go. He will see his first live action Monday night against Philadelphia.

Will Washington coach Mike Shanahan really try to protect Griffin, from defenders and from himself? Will Griffin avoid unnecessary hits? And will he be the same dynamic, multidimensional player he was as a rookie? We'll begin to get answers on Monday.

3. What will Chip Kelly's offense look like?

It will be fast. That we know. It will feature Michael Vick at quarterback and LeSean McCoy at running back. It will include stacked formations and multiple tight ends. There will be lots of no-huddle and shotgun. And did I mention it would be fast? Fast. Fast. Fast.

Will it work? That really depends on Vick. He won the quarterback competition with Nick Foles because he was accurate in the preseason, protected the football and played smart. But he has been a turnover machine the past two years and hasn't been able to stay healthy. His history shows that he will miss time this season, which will give Foles an opportunity. For Kelly's offense to work, the quarterback has to keep the chains moving and sustain long drives.

The Eagles should be able to do that. Keeping the other team out of the end zone? That will be a bigger problem.

4. How will teams defend the read option?

It is here and it is hot, and defensive coaches have had an entire offseason to study the read option and figure out ways to better defend it. The read option helps quarterbacks with play action because there's a run-pass option based on what the defense shows. The quarterback can hand off to the running back or throw it or run it himself. There are several options with a quarterback who can run, which makes it so tricky to defend.

"Like everything in life, defenses will eventually catch up," St. Louis general manager Les Snead said. "You're going to have smart football people evolve and figure it out, and then there will probably be a defense for the read option. It will have its name. That's how this stuff works."

5. Who will surprise us?

AP Photo/Ed Zurga

The additions of Andy Reid and Alex Smith should lead to a big jump from last year's 2-14 record for the Chiefs.

Kansas City.

Andy Reid took the Chiefs coaching job in January for a variety of reasons. He liked the location. He admired the Hunt family. He wouldn't have to be in charge of personnel. And he saw a team that had talent despite its 2-14 record in 2012.

All Kansas City was lacking was a quarterback. In Alex Smith, Reid got one he admired and felt could make his West Coast offense work.

Suffice it to say, Reid likes his team.

"In the National Football League you're paid to win games," he said. "I'm not going to come in here and say we can't win. That's not how I feel. That's not how I'm wired. And that's not why they hired me. In this day and age of football, any given team, with the parity in the league, has an opportunity to win if things click."

Including the Chiefs.

6. Who will disappoint us?

The Jets. Again.

This is destined to end badly for head coach Rex Ryan. He is working for a first-year general manager in John Idzik who did not hire Ryan. He has unrest at the most important position. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith will start Sunday against Tampa Bay. Mark Sanchez's status is in doubt.

Ryan has appeared to be a shell of his once blustery self. From the outside looking in, he seems like he has resigned himself to his fate. The Jets aren't going to be very good, which means Ryan will be gone. The question isn't if, but when.

7. What team will go from worst to first?

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Can Calvin Johnson carry the Lions from worst to first in the NFC North?

It happened again last season, like it has every season since 2003. The Redskins, winners of five games in 2011, went from the bottom of their division to the top in just one year, finishing 10-6 to win the NFC East and get out of the division cellar for the first time in five seasons.

Two other teams, Indianapolis and Minnesota, emerged from the bottoms of their divisions to make the playoffs.

Of the eight division bottom feeders from last year, the Detroit Lions have the best shot at breaking out. They're hungry. They have talent on both sides of the ball. They have the best receiver in football in Calvin Johnson and a newly re-signed quarterback in Matthew Stafford who can get him the football. And the Lions are tied with St. Louis and New Orleans for the second-easiest schedule, facing opponents that collectively had a .539 winning percentage in 2012.

Green Bay needed 11 wins to capture the NFC North a year ago. That would be a big jump for the Lions, who won four games in 2012, but it doesn't seem outside of the realm of possibility.

8. Who will be the division winners?

Washington, Atlanta, Green Bay and Seattle in the NFC. New England (again!), Houston, Baltimore and Denver in the AFC.

9. Who will get the wild cards?

San Francisco and New Orleans in the NFC. Kansas City and Indianapolis in the AFC.

10. Who wins it all?

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Mike Smith and Matt Ryan got their first playoff win with the Falcons last year and are poised to reach new heights in 2013.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff won't say the words "super" and "bowl" out loud, not even in the privacy of his office. He's superstitious. That's fine. I will.

Like it was last year for Harbaugh and Flacco, it is time for Mike Smith and Matt Ryan to build off of their remarkable regular-season success together and take the next step. Last season, they finally won a playoff game. They had a 17-point lead in the NFC title game. They were a defensive stop away from reaching New Orleans.

Yes, the Falcons have issues on the right side of their offensive line. Yes, they could still use another pass-rusher. But they are loaded offensively and will put up a lot of points and finally bring the Lombardi Trophy to Atlanta.

Atlanta and Denver in North Jersey. Let's hope the weather holds.

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