I’ve finally had the opportunity to sit down and evaluate the Ravens schedule. I’m going to avoid the discussion about the fact that the defending Super Bowl Champions have to open up their season on the road vs the team that they beat in the AFC Divisional round: The Denver Broncos. There is a lot of drama in Baltimore right now between the Orioles and Ravens right now, but the schedule has been made and there isn’t much that the Ravens can do about it now. They open up in the Mile-High city of Denver against Peyton Manning in the Broncos. The Ravens have rematches against all AFC playoff opponents spread out throughout the seasons which will be fun to see. Overall I think the Ravens have a pretty exciting and tough schedule that, if they can pull off some victories, will only make them a stronger team.
Week 1: Ravens @ Broncos
Here we see a rematch with the Ravens divisional round opponent. The Broncos will feature an even more potent offense than last season with the addition of Wes Welker and will be looking to get some revenge against the Ravens for the loss they suffered in double overtime that booted them out of the playoffs. Immediately the Ravens new defense will be tested against one of the premier offenses in the league. Not only do the Ravens have to worry about an improved passing game from the Broncos, but the running game in Denver is nothing to write off either. They have a great two-back system with McGahee and Moreno that, in both games, managed to rush for well over 100-yards against the Ravens last season. Expect a lot of passing from both sides. With Flacco’s new, lucrative, contract he should be getting more control over the offense. This should, hopefully, be a really fun game to watch. During the regular season last year the Broncos rolled the Ravens and it took a miracle drive and stunning overtime thriller for the Ravens to overthrow the Broncos in the playoffs. So, I expect both teams to come out fired up and ready to put on a good opening game of the season. The only issue that I have with this game is that it is on Thursday. I really am not a fan of all the Thursday games because I think its really difficult for the players and coaches to completely prepare for these games. Obviously the opening game of the season means the Ravens will have a little more time to prepare for this one.
Week 2: Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens
Here the Ravens open up at home against their divisional-rival Cleveland Browns. The Ravens won both games against the browns last season, but neither game was what you could call an easy one. The Browns always play the Ravens tough. No matter how good either team is, each game seems to be a grind-it-out slug fest that is usually won in the trenches. The Browns are an improving team, but the Ravens are phenomenal at home, boasting on of the best home records in the past few years. That fact alone, I think, makes this a relatively easy game for the Ravens.
Week 3: Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens
You want a game that is filled with a lot of drama? You’re going to find it in this one. Here we have future hall of famer Ed Reed returning to the place where he spend the past decade. I can only imagine that the reception he receives will be a positive one. Ravens fans are very classy and there is no doubt in my mind that they will welcome Ed Reed back warmly. The drama also builds because this is another playoff team for the AFC last season. During the regular season last year the Texans flat out embarrassed the Baltimore Ravens. But this one should prove to be another good match up. The Texans still have one of the best two-back combos in the NFL, but some will argue that their receiving corps is not what it once was. Andre Johnson, even older, is still Andre Johnson. Aside from Andre Johnson the rest of the Texan’s receivers are not as troublesome as Andre can be, and if the Ravens can stop the run early, and force the Texans into a passing situation I think it will be an easier game for them to win.
Week 4: Baltimore Ravens @ Buffalo Bills
This one, on paper, probably isn’t the most exciting game for the Ravens this season. Personally this game is an exciting one. I grew up in Central New York in a family of Bills fans and now I live in Buffalo after graduating from college up here. So anytime the Ravens get to come to Buffalo I get really excited. The Bills, depending on how they draft, could actually be a good team this year. They have, for the past couple of years, had a really exciting two-back combination (Gee the Ravens are playing another team with a good two-back system…) and I expect their defense to be better than it was last season. They have Mario Williams who they paid a ton of money for and a defense that has the potential to be pretty solid. Receiver wise the Ravens need to stop Stevie Johnson. He is their biggest threat and has a ton of talent. The Bills, for the moment, are sporting a new starting Quarterback after releasing Ryan Fitzpatrick and going out to get Kevin Kolb. The Ravens, I feel, are leaps and bounds over the Buffalo Bills in terms of talent and there are only two really big issues that we could potentially face here against the Bills. 1) Is that we have a perpetual issue sometimes of playing down to weaker opponents and that puts us in a position to lose. 2) The Bills usually start off the season pretty strong and then fall off toward the end of the season. If history continues this trend they could be pretty tough at home early in the season and really give us a run for our money.
Week 5: Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins
Another trip into the AFC East brings the Ravens down to Miami to take on the Dolphins. They were a team last season that showed some promise but never really found their groove. During the offseason the Dolphins reloaded their receiving roster with the flashy Mike Wallace and their defensive seven with ex-Raven’s inside linebacker Darnell Ellerbe. They did however lose Reggie Bush and Jake Long to free agency and they did cut Karlos Dansby from their roster to make room in the salary cap. If second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill can continue to improve and get the ball to a more consistent receiver like Make Wallace the Dolphins could actually be poised for a pretty decent year in a very questionable division with the only certainty being the Patriots as the elite of the East. The Ravens could still very well underplay a team that they are definitely better than and, on the road, they could have a tough time with this one.
Week 6: Green Bay Packers @ Baltimore Ravens
Here is another tough test for the Ravens at home. I’m pretty surprised that this one isnt a Sunday or Monday night game. With the caliber of teams that are going to be on display in this one, I would expect the NFL to want to cash in on two of the premier teams in the league. The Packers are definitely one of the elite teams coming out of the NFC and still contenders to win the conference and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. This is another game that will put the Raven’s new defense to the test. With one of the best receiving corps in the league catching balls from former MVP Aaron Rodgers the secondary is going to be under pressure the whole game. The big key to this game is going to be really utilizing the Raven’s new pass-rush game and getting after Aaron Rodgers to disrupt the passing game. Put Rodgers on his back frequently and hopefully you can create some turnovers that will lead to points. Hopefully the Ravens can use their home-field advantage to pull out a win here early in the season against a tough opponent.
Game #7: Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
One of two games that every Ravens fan marks on their calenders. Last year the Ravens and Steelers split their season series in two very exciting, very close, games. Both teams have a lot of fresh faces that are going to be getting their taste of the best rivalry in football. If things go the way of the past this one promises to be a tough, hard-nosed entertaining football game. Expect a lot of jawing and a lot of scuffles as is custom when these two teams get together. Both teams are going to still be searching for who they are this season and, as it seems to happen most years, this is the game where both teams build character and find out who they are. In this game I feel that the Steeler’s offense is the one in worse shape than the Ravens. They’ve lost Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace on offense as well as . And on the defensive side of the ball they cut longtime defensive captain James Harrison. So its going to be interesting to see who steps up for the Steelers this year on both offense and defense to help them try to compete with the Ravens and Bengals. I still expect this to be a Ravens/Steelers game score wise. So dont expect each team to put up 30 points. Defense will rule this game, like it does every year.
Week #8: Bye Week
The Ravens get a good bye week this week. It is right in the middle of the season coming off of what will probably be a tough game versus the Ravens. The rest will be good for them as they prepare for another divisional game.
Week #9: Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns
The Ravens wrap up their season series against the Browns on the road. This one will probably be a bit tougher for the Ravens being on the road, in the “Dawg Pound,” against a Cleveland Brown’s team that could use their undervalued status as a team in the NFL to its advantage. The Browns are a tough, prideful football team that is slowly building around a good young running back, a quarterback with some upside, and a defense that is starting to look surprisingly good. They play tough and, if the Ravens don’t watch out. They could end up winning this one.
Week #10: Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
This is the third game in a row with the Ravens playing in their own division. In week 10 the Ravens will host the Bengals. The Bengals over the past few years have been getting increasingly better each year with good drafts and key free agent signings. This year isnt any different. The Bengals haven’t lost too much except for Manny Lawson on defense but replaced him with James Harrison from Pittsburgh. Personally I think that the Bengals are going to be the Raven’s toughest competition this season. They have great offensive weapons and their defense is top-notch. They could get even better in the draft if the right players fall to them. This is a big game in Baltimore that the Ravens could definitely win against a very well-matched opponent.
Week #11: Baltimore Ravens @ Chicago Bears
The Ravens roll into soldier field in the middle of November to face off against a team that is tough to figure out. The Bears have a good quarterback in Jay Cutler that, as long as he can stay upright, can definitely lead the Bears to some big wins. He can be very streaky though. He can either throw for 4 TDs and 300 yards or sometime he can barely break 200 yards and ends up throwing 4 picks in one game. The Bears have plenty of offensive weapons and their defense has, as I see it, improved by letting Brian Urlacher go. Urlacher, as great of a player and leader that he has been for the Bears over his career, was definitely showing signs of age and he had lost more than a step. The Bears are faster on defense and will still play every game hard, especially at home against soldier field.
Week #12: New York Jets @ Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens kick off a three game home stand here against the Jets. These games vs the Jets always mean one thing. A lot of jawing and a lot of trash talking before the game. The Ravens have fared well against Rex Ryan’s Jets. This year shouldnt be anything different. Two years ago the Jets were Super Bowl contenders, now they’re one of the biggest messes in the NFL. The Jets defense has a bunch of holes that were just made even more glaring this week by trading away Darrell Revis. They do have two picks in the top 15 now thanks to the trade. They could rebuild a bit, but I dont think that they bring in enough to help in all the areas that they need it. So, especially at home, I think the Ravens can win here.
Week # 13: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens
Thanksgiving is a time of year that we’re all supposed to give thanks for all the good things that have happened to us throughout the year. Its a time of reflection and a time to spend with family. This year I’ll be giving thanks that the NFL decided to have the Ravens play the Steelers at home Thanksgiving night. Nothing says fun for the whole family more than the Ravens and Steelers slugging it out after everyone has settled down from their Thanksgiving Day feast. As usual these two teams beat each other up for 4 quarters in a low scoring game and both teams put on one heck of a performance on prime time television.
Week #14: Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens
No one expected the Vikings to make the playoffs last year. It took a legendary effort from league MVP Adrian Peterson to get them there. They’re, for the most part, pretty much the same team as last year. They got rid of Percy Harvin and brought in Greg Jennings. They might be in contention at this point in the season. They’re still a good football team but I think that without Harvin they’re not as versatile on offense. Harvin was one of those guys that could do it all when he was healthy. Jennings is a bigger body that can still go up there and get the ball but he, like Harvin, is also very injury prone. This should be a good match up for the Ravens where if you stop Adrian Peterson you can derail the Vikings offense. Stopping the MVP usually means stopping the Vikings offense.
Week #15: Baltimore Ravens @ Detroit Lions
The Ravens roll into Detroit after 3 games at home for their only Monday night game of the season. The Lions look poised to have a pretty good year. Matthew Stafford is still their starting quarterback, Calvin Johnson is still their wide receiver and that alone will be enough to give the Ravens trouble. The Lions added Reggie Bush to bolster their running and passing game. The Lions are a sneaky, unpredictable team. One thing that is predictable is that their defense isnt that great and the best way to stop this team is to try and manage to keep the ball out of Calvin Johnson’s hands and keep him out of the end zone. A win here in Detroit on Monday night could be a huge win for the Ravens as they make their final push towards the playoffs. Which, I think they will definitely be in contention for at this point in the season. This isnt the toughest match up on the Raven’s schedule, but it could be dangerous if the Ravens go into underestimating the capabilities of the Lions at home.
Week # 16: New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens
This is my favorite time of the year. This is the game where the Ravens always test their mettle. The Rivalry between these two teams is going to take on a different light this year. While this rivalry isn’t the caliber that the Steelers/Ravens is, it is still a defining moment each year for the Ravens. There is a lot of bad blood between these two teams and each game between these two teams always has those season defining moments. It is no surprise that this game is the Sunday night game this week. The Patriots will be without Wes Welker this season, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. They still have Tom Brady at quarterback, and I’m not saying that Welker won’t be missed, but with Tom Brady as your quarterback any receiver is dangerous. This game it will be the Pats looking for revenge on the Baltimore Ravens for beating them twice last season. I expect this game to be a precursor to what could very well be the first of two games between these teams because I doubt that these two teams are only going to play once this season. It always seems like both teams meet in the biggest games of the season, and those games always turn out to be one of the most entertaining games of the year.
Week #17: Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals
For the second consecutive year the Ravens and the Bengals meet in Cincinnati in the last game of the season. This has all the potential to be a division deciding game. The Ravens and Bengals both have plans on being in the playoffs this year and both teams very well could be. I would expect a playoff atmosphere as these two teams slug it out in the final game of the season. The Bengals are only a few pieces away from being a complete puzzle and if they can complete that puzzle this off season the Ravens could very well be in big trouble at the top of the division this season and this game could be the one that decides it.
The Ravens have had a very trying schedule ahead of them but they are still one of the best teams in the AFC despite the loss of Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Anquan Boldin. They’re going to need a lot of people to step up this season and try to fill those spots that are left vacant. We went out and got some pieces to stop the bleeding, but I dont think that one player is going to replace the guys that we lost. Its going to take a team effort, but I really do think that the Ravens have the stuff to push through the North and come out on top.