Ravens schedule provides early chance to establish dominance

Ravens Schedule (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Ravens Schedule (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The NFL released its 2021 schedule on Wednesday, and the Baltimore Ravens have an early opportunity to re-establish themselves as one of the AFC’s true Super Bowl threats.

After opening up on the road against a tough Las Vegas Raiders team and saying hello to some old friends in the process, it’s back home for a crucial bout against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sprinkle in games against the ascending Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals, and tough matchups with Indianapolis and Minnesota, and you have all the makings of a true grind through the first two months of the season.

A grind that only gets tougher as the weather gets colder.

The Baltimore Ravens schedule presents a unique opportunity

Just for starters, the Kansas City Chiefs and Ravens rivalry is one that’s been among the most fierce in football over the last three seasons.

While the results have yet to go in favor of Baltimore during the Patrick Mahomes/Lamar Jackson era, each game has provided numerous memorable highlights and pulse-pounding moments that allow this matchup to sit right at the top of the most exciting pairings in football.

The Colts, meanwhile, will be chomping at the bit to pull one out against the Ravens. New quarterback Carson Wentz enters 2021 with a massive chip on his shoulder, and he may just have the best offense of his entire career at his disposal.

They also haven’t forgotten the home loss they experienced last season to the Ravens, and how it affected their playoff seeding when the dust settled.

Justin Herbert showed last season that he can sling the football with the best of them in the NFL, and with Los Angeles returning some key players back to full health on defense we could see another one of those classic Ravens/Chargers matchups.

Joe Burrow’s encounter against the Ravens last year left much to be desired, as he’d be the first to say, but there’s no mistaking his ability and potential.

The addition of his former college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, gives the Ravens yet another weapon to worry about, and if the Bengals’ offensive line can keep Burrow upright, they’ll surely turn some heads in 2021.

The Vikings were right in the thick of the playoff picture last year before a late-season slide took them out of contention, but their offense is still among the most explosive in football.

Leading this group is a man who’s arguably the best running back in the game — Dalvin Cook. Not to mention, the addition of maulers on the offensive line like Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis via the draft adds an entire new dimension to that unit.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will have to be on his A game, along with the entire defense.

Many members of the Ravens Flock will be happy that the true season-defining types of games are mostly later in the year when the rookies have had a chance to get comfortable and come into their own.

However, a respectively stout early slate still presents a unique opportunity for the new crop.

Rookies like Rashod Bateman, Odafe Oweh, and Ben Cleveland won’t get the same opportunity that Marquise Brown did when he was able to break out in his first two performances against less-than-stellar competition and gain valuable experience before facing stiffer opponents.

Instead, they’ll be inserted into the closest thing one can compare to a “playoff atmosphere” that early in the season in games against two tough AFC foes — games where they’ll be forced to sink or swim from the get-go.

The offensive line, in particular, will have to find a way to gel early in order for the Ravens to truly be successful.

After losing Orlando Brown to one of the teams the Ravens will meet early on (Kansas City), and Ronnie Stanley missing substantial time due to injury, the building of chemistry in training camp will be essential for this bunch.

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New additions such as the aforementioned Ben Cleveland, Kevin Zeitler, and Alejandro Villanueva will have to get up to speed quickly, with the likes of Chris Jones, Frank Clark, and Yannick Ngakoue on the docket just in the first two weeks of the season.

While anything can change in terms of how a team looks on the schedule between now and September, the Ravens have a great opportunity to establish dominance leading up to the holidays.

With the second-toughest overall strength of schedule in football, they’ll need to do so at every possible juncture.

Closing the schedule with both matchups against Cleveland and Pittsburgh in the final seven weeks (sandwiched between key games against the Rams and Packers) will likely decide who comes away with the AFC North crown.

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However, early success against established playoff threats, up-and-comers, and other divisional foes may just put the Ravens in the driver’s seat of that race.