We are just getting ready to start training camp in the NFL universe, where inevitably roster spots will be won and lost, players will get hurt, and new stars will be born. Young players get their chance to make a mark on the game and veteran players get warmed up for another sixteen (or hopefully more) weekly battles. Pivotal games will be played.
This is a time to look ahead to how teams will fare once the real action starts, and there is no better way to do it than to analyze the upcoming schedule. While we don’t yet know how the changes teams are implementing this offseason will pan out, whether they be players or schemes, we know several games will be pivotal for a variety of reasons.
The NFL tries to predict these important matchups every year when it makes the schedule, giving those big games a prime TV spot. But even they have to rely on things like flexible scheduling thanks to the unpredictability of the game. But that unpredictability is one of the reasons why we love it so.
Here is a look at three games that have an excellent chance at being pivotal moments in the Baltimore Raven’s 2014 season.
Week 1 – Cincinnati Bengals (Home)
It’s easy to say that the first game of the season is going to be pivotal for every team, but it is even more so for the Ravens this season. They kick things off against a tough division rival in front of a home crowd, all while playing their first real game with a totally new offense. For those who want to attend, tickets are available for as low as $79. if you don’t live in the area, you can book a cheap HipMunk hotel in Baltimore for Saturday night.
The Ravens will most likely be without Ray Rice in this matchup, so how well will Bernard Pierce and the rest of the backs perform in his absence against a historically tough defense? I would expect them to try and establish the run early in this game to try and control the clock.
The Bengals lost the leader of their defense when Mike Zimmer claimed the head coaching job in Minnesota, so it will be interesting to see how they move on. Zimmer was a great leader who is well known for his brash and honest nature. The question is, how much will his presence be missed?
The Bengals will be looking to run the ball more as well as they move away from the pass happy offense they utilized last season. Teams figure to continue to double team A.J. Green regardless, though the Bengals have other weapons, including running back Giovanni Bernard.
Because the Ravens begin the season with three straight divisional games, it is imperative that they start the season strong. The good news is two of those games are played at home.
Week 4- Carolina Panthers (home)
The Raven’s reward for opening the season with a three game divisional stretch is a matchup with the 2013 NFL South champs. The Panthers surprised everyone last year by capitalizing on one of the best defensive front 7′s in football to win twelve games. And we heard their quarterback is pretty good too.
The Panther’s defense went toe-to-toe with the best last year, holding the eventual champion Seahawks to 12 points and denying the Patriots a win in Charlotte. They return with that defensive unit largely intact, though they lost a lot of key players on the offensive side of the ball, namely Steve Smith.
Speaking of Smith, he promises to be incredibly motivated to show up the team that let him go. He is an icon in Charlotte and perhaps the most popular player in team history. This game is more than just another game, it is a matter of pride for him.
After playing three straight excellent defensive teams, we will quickly find out how good Gary Kubiak’s offense is when they meet a fourth. Running on the Panthers was essentially impossible in 2013, so adjustments may come in to play here.
Week 9 – Pittsburgh Steelers (away)
No list of pivotal games would be complete without at least one matchup between these bitter rivals. The second meeting of the two promises to be important, regardless of what happens in week 2. And it’s Sunday Night Football in hostile territory to boot.
The Steelers, like the Ravens, had a pretty down year last year. These are two teams that consistently make the playoffs and contend for titles, so anything less is considered a failure. Both figure to regain their reputations as stout defensive units that run the ball into the ground this season.
And that’s what makes these two such an entertaining matchup. They are teams known for their hard nose, physical play and both like to grind the clock. Both have big, tough quarterbacks with big arms.
The Raven’s bye week doesn’t come until week 11 this year, so they might be a little winded by now. A win here would be huge, regardless of their record at this point. Especially since this is their second to last divisional game, thanks to a unique schedule.
What games do you think will be pivotal for the Ravens this coming season?