Of course a full-scale, detailed game-by-game analysis of any NFL team’s schedule months prior to the first game, before training camp and the preseason, and well before final rosters are even set, probably isn’t the most useful exercise in predicting a team’s 2012 fate. We should also recognize the absurdity of the NFL’s primetime showcase dedicated to the schedule release in April, as if were a State of the Union Address or announcement of another pending war. While I didn’t tune in with nail-biting angst during said primetime unveiling, after I realized that the same released schedules would also be on the teams’ websites the next day and for the remainder of 2012, I have reviewed the Ravens' regular season schedule and wanted to touch on a few interesting takeaways.
First and foremost, the Ravens have the 4th
toughest schedule as ranked by the NFL. This is the result of playing in the AFC North, generally regarded as the league’s toughest division, as well as having finished a game away from the Super Bowl last season. Both the Ravens and their fans should relish the opportunity to play such a difficult schedule. This league is about game days, and big game days more importantly, and the more of those you have when you’re one of the league’s best, the more vaunted you can become, particularly in your home stadium, and the more battle tested you will be when the postseason arrives. Any team that shies away from difficulty on their schedule or any fans that would rather match up with Little Sisters of the Poor on a weekly basis for 4 straight months should find another way to pass their time because this is the most aggressive sport in this country played at the highest level, and there’s no shying away from anything. At least not if you want to win a lot of games that is, and Baltimore certainly does.
3 of first 4 Home and Primetime
The Ravens play 3 of their first 4 games in primetime against the Bengals, Patriots and Browns, in weeks 1, 3, and 4 respectively. This appears strange and difficult on surface, but all of these games are in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium, with the Eagles sandwiched in on the road in Week 2. Last year the Ravens dismantled the Jets and 49ers at home in primetime and finished the season 9-0 in Baltimore, which includes the playoff divisional win over the Texans last January. Playing at home is clearly a big advantage for this franchise due to the vertical walls of 70,000+ screaming purple maniacs that feed the team’s adrenaline and create nightmare scenarios for opposing offenses. So, while this stretch will undoubtedly be challenging, it could also represent an opportunity to come out of the gate hot, send the Bengals off down their 6-10 merry way, which they are due for statistically (they never put together 2 good consecutive years), take home revenge on the Patriots who barely held them out of the Super Bowl last year, and then pound the lowly Browns on Thursday night. Every challenge is an opportunity.
This season the team has an advantageous travel schedule and actually will only cross the mighty Mississippi three times, a Week 5 trip to Kansas City, a tough place to play against a likely healthier than last year Chiefs squad, a Week 7 trip to Houston, this year’s flavor of the month Super Bowl pick (Does the team who everyone
pencils into the Super Bowl ever actually get there and win it? i.e. Packers 2011), and the always challenging Chargers in Week 12, who often take advantage of the weary Ravens’ coming 3,000 miles across and down to southern Cal. Also, of the Ravens' four NFC East opponents, they get to travel to the nearby Redskins and Eagles, while welcoming the more distant Giants and Cowboys into the M&T gauntlet. This couldn’t have worked out better for facing the difficulty of that division. There is even a stretch after they return from San Diego in Week 12, when the team plays 3 of 4 games at home from weeks 13-16, with the 1 road game in Washington D.C. in Week 14. This will be a crucial month-long stretch, which does include Peyton Manning and the Super Bowl Champion Giants, but at least allows the players to sleep comfortably in their own beds, prior to playing in Cincinnati for the season finale and then hopefully gearing up for another postseason run.
You can’t really discuss a Baltimore football schedule without at least mentioning the 2 annual bloodbaths between the Ravens and Steelers. In 2012, they both come in 3 weeks, the first being on Sunday Night Football on November 18th
in Week 11, followed by a Week 13 Sunday afternoon matchup in Baltimore on December 2nd. Oh yea and remember week 12 is that fun cross-country trip to meet Philip Rivers on the beaches of San Diego. This will be the Ravens' toughest 3-game stretch of the season, as Pittsburgh will be dying to return the brooms to Baltimore after being swept by the Ravens in 2011. Baltimore’s goal should be to win enough games previously so that dropping 1 or possibly even 2 of these 3 games could happen without spoiling the team’s postseason aspirations.
Much roster and depth chart uncertainty remains at this point, which prevents any reasonable and thorough breakdown of individual games on the schedule. The Ravens still need to shore up their offensive line, particularly at left guard and center (Birk healthy enough?), select a backup running back, decide on a 3rd
receiver, and add inside linebacker and pass rush support. The schedule contains some favorable aspects as well as challenges, and GM Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens' brain trust’s mission will be to put the team’s roster in the best possible position by September to win 11, 12, or even 13 games with a few good bounces to earn the Baltimore Ravens a fifth consecutive playoff berth. In fact, I think I hear lightning strikes and chemistry beaker clanking coming from the Castle’s attic now….