Were Lee Evans not a complete waste, the Ravens would have been in the Super Bowl in February. If John Harbaugh had an ounce of situational awareness and had taken the team’s final timeout before Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard field goal attempt in the final minute, the Ravens would have forced overtime in the AFC Championship Game and would still possibly have gone to the Super Bowl. Instead, this happened. Some Ravens fans called it the most agonizing loss in team history (Ed. note: it was glorious).

Five Fast Facts About The Ravens:

- Joe Flacco is not elite.

- Joe Flacco is not elite.

- Joe Flacco is not elite.

- Joe Flacco is not elite.

- Jim Caldwell is the new Ravens quarterbacks coach, so Joe Flacco is now extra not elite.

Key acquisitions: Courtney Upshaw, Jacoby Jones, Curtis Painter, Bobbie Williams

Key departures: Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura, Cory Redding, Chris Carr, Lee Evans

Vegas win total over/under: 10 wins

KSK verdict: PUSH

Fantasy player you’ll want to dig at with rusty hooks: Torrey Smith

Ray Rice and the Ravens defense are the clear fantasy draws. If you’re starting Flacco or Boldin, it’s probably because your regular starter at the position is hurt or on bye. It’s also possible your team is just very thin or you’re a Bawlmer homer. Ed Dickson is a mid-level tight end. That leaves Smith, who will likely become the team’s top receiver as Anquan Boldin continues his robotic march into decrepitude. Smith is still mostly a home run threat, meaning he’ll either get you 80 yards and a score or 35 total yards when the opposing defense wants to take away the deep ball. Smith could mature into a more versatile threat in his second season, but otherwise that’s risky bidness.

In which Ape attempts to say something nice about Baltimore: Beach House, a band from Baltimore, put out one of my favorite albums of the year. Nice work, Baltimore!

Fanboy forecast, by mysterious guest writer Rushmore Hollandaise:

One of the great tragedies of the Twitter Era is that a contrarian gasbag like Jason Whitlock is now considered by many to be something of an expert on all things related to The Wire. It’s actually a tragedy of Frank Sobatka-esq proportions, and every time I see another one of his Dittohead followers converted for all the wrong reasons, it makes me want to take a long walk out to meet Spiros and The Greek under the Key Bridge. Even when Whitlock accidentally unearths an interesting point about the show, much like a man who finds an egg roll between the cushions of sofa that he can’t remember ordering but is happy to devour, I can’t help but feel like one of the great pieces of artwork of the 21th century deserves a better advocate.

I say this because it’s easy to make moronic analogies about the Ravens by using characters from The Wire. I could tell you, like Whitlock did last year during the playoffs, that Ray Lewis is Avon Barksdale — that his strength and power have diminished, and all he has left are his pride and the echoes of his reputation that still ring out around the league. Or that Ed Reed is Prop Joe, a scheming, wise-cracking, moody intellectual with odd facial hair who thinks he can outsmart The Game. John Harbaugh — with his love of empty political slogans like “53 Mighty Men of Baltimore,” and “Play Like A Raven” — could even pass for a credible version of mayor Tommy Carcetti. (Though I’m not sure, even in another life, John could run a Westeros whorehouse, now that I give it more thought. Sure, he’d make the whores hustle and dress nice on Sundays, but he’d inevitably fuck up their clock management, and even those Belichickian Lannisters would just laugh and eventually refuse to pay their debts.)

But all that stupidity misses a larger point. The Wire wasn’t a show about charismatic gangsters and cops, or a clash over the different ways Avon, Stringer, Prop Joe, McNulty, Bunk and Marlo saw the world. The Wire was really the story of the way individuals struggle when they try to take on institutions. They’re inevitably crushed because reform is damn near impossible when you have so many forces — and by that, I mean a decade or more of institutional momentum and memory — working against you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a drug dealer or a police officer or a politician or a altruistic teacher. You’ll eventually be chewed up and spit out if you attempt to lead a half-assed reform.

That’s actually the best way I can summarize the Ravens quarterback situation over the last 12 years. It’s time to realize the problems are institutional, not the failure of a group of individuals.

I say all this because if you’re going to use the show to talk about the Ravens, you have to do it right. The Ravens inability to put a great quarterback on the field at any point during their tenure in Baltimore is one of the saddest — or, if you’re a Steelers fan, truly hilarious — stories of this NFL era. Even if you’re convinced Ray Lewis is disingenuous charlatan who now uses Jesus as a shield to help you forget the sins of his not-so-distant past, the dude is probably the best fucking defensive player the modern game has seen. And even though Ed Reed looks like he could easily be the homeless guy with popcorn in his beard standing outside of Whole Foods and shouting at a tree, he’s easily one of the best free safeties to ever play the game. Yet this, in order, is the parade of clowns the Ravens have sent stumbling out onto the field to lead the offense during the prime of Lewis’ career, and Reed’s career:

A geriatric Jim Harbaugh, Eric Zeier, Tony Banks, Stoney Case, Scott Mitchell, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham on bald tires, Jeff Blake, Chris Redman, Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, Kyle Boller (again!), Anthony Wright (again!), an arthritic Steve McNair, Kyle Boller (again!!!), Troy Smith, Joe Flacco. If there is one quote from The Wire I’d like to see directed at Ozzie Newsome, it’s this one from Bodie, one of the show’s most fascinating and tragic characters: “Don’t matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin’ the same all over.”

Most Ravens fans think the organization has finally broken the curse with Flacco, a unibrowed ostrich of a man who has a howitzer for a right arm and is about as mobile as the Joe Paterno statue. This is Flacco’s fifth year, and while he still manages to step on his own dick far too frequently to be considered a star at the position, he’s at least brought stability to this decade-long nightmare on offense. People want to believe he represents a New Day in Baltimore, and with Lewis nearly calcified, we’re on the verge of this becoming HIS team.

I remain unconvinced. I can’t shake the feeling Flacco is just one more individual who will eventually be crushed by the stubborn nature of an institution that thought it was a good idea to bring in T.J. Houshmandzadeh two years ago. Flacco has managed to out-perform the Stoney Cases and Jeff Blakes of the world because he has far more talent. But he still faces some of the same obstacles that, say, Chris Redman did. He plays for an organization that considers offense — and has for more than a decade — to be something of a nuisance. He plays for a coordinator, Cam Cameron, who is terrified to call any play that involves a set as complicated as putting three wide receivers on one half of the football field. If NFL offenses were represented by ancient cultures, the Saints and the Packers would be the Greeks and the Romans. They’re discussing philosophy, math and art and forming complex systems of government while the Ravens are still living in caves, banging rocks together and hoping to figure out this evil sorcery known as fire.

The Ravens managed to hunt and gather their way to the AFC Championship game last year, and Flacco played well enough to get his team to the Super Bowl. But in the end, I can’t say I was all that surprised when the institution ultimately crushed his dreams. I’m convinced if you cut open Anquan Boldin’s knee, all you’d find is Styrofoam peanuts and some old ball bearings. He’s exactly the kind of player the Ravens have been asking to lead their passing attack since forever — too old, too slow, and too proud to realize both are true. (Miss you too, Derrick Mason!) When Boldin couldn’t get open on the Ravens final drive, Flacco was forced to look for Lee Evans, another prototypical Ravens wideout — a recycled product who has been sulking for so long, he can’t make a big catch when redemption is staring him right in the face.

I can’t see the 2012 season playing out differently, to be honest. In fact, it’s going to be even harder to get back to the AFC Championship game since Terrell Suggs’ obsession with pretending he’s Charles Barkley resulted in a torn Achilles. Sure, Ray Rice is back, but the offensive line is also older (Matt Birk) and fatter (Bryant McKinnie). Is Flacco going to be better? Maybe, but just because he’s not Elvis Grbac doesn’t mean he’s good enough to win a Super Bowl. The reason Ravens fans have a (hard-earned and well-deserved) reputation for believing there is an Illuminati-level conspiracy in the works to screw their team is because it’s a coping mechanism, a way of deflecting a more deflating truth: The organization may excel at figuring out how to draft and run a defense, but their offensive playbook might as well be drawn in crayon. And as hard as this for Ravens fans to admit, Lewis has contributed to the problem in recent years, insisting (without much subtlety) that the team run an offense so simplistic, I like to call it: “Do Anything But Fuck It Up, Joe.” If Lewis played with Tony Romo or Matt Stafford or any of the other risk-taking, swashbuckling quarterbacks, I’m convinced he’d have an aneurysm by halftime. I predict another ugly but mostly-effective season that ends when they fall short in the playoffs because Jacoby Jones drops a crucial fourth down.

In Baltimore, the game is the game, period. Same as it ever was.