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Eisenberg: Crucial Issue Overlooked In Schedule Release


The unveiling of the Ravens 2014 schedule generated plenty of analysis, including some posted here. But one potentially crucial issue received little attention, if any. So let's correct that. 

What if running back Ray Rice is suspended for a few games when the season opens?

Sorry to go all Chicken Little on you, but it's possible. Rice is under indictment for aggravated assault in New Jersey. His legal case still has a long way to go, but regardless of how it unfolds, the league's recent pattern is to levy punishment of its own in high-profile cases involving off-field trouble. 

It could mean a suspension of a few games at the start of the season, a potential scenario that is, well, a bit more alarming now that the Ravens know their 2014 schedule is so front-loaded with key games.

They open with back-to-back home games against their biggest rivals in the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, and needless to say, they would prefer to play that doubleheader at full strength. 

If it turns out Rice is unavailable, they will need to have Plan B for their running game ready to go, whatever that means.


Even with the uncertainty involving Rice, if I'm the Ravens, I like the idea of opening the season at home against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

It gives them a chance to take early control of the division and set themselves up as the team to beat -- an aggressive statement they could stand to make after falling to 8-8 and missing the playoffs a year ago. 

Sweeping two games in five days will be a challenge, for sure, but the opportunity plays into the Ravens' hands because both games are at home. Under Head Coach John Harbaugh, they're a combined 8-4 at M&T Bank Stadium against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

The fact they're just 5-9 on the road against those two teams under Harbaugh underscores the importance of "holding serve" at home. 

If a home season opener against the Bengals feels familiar, it should. The Ravens hosted Cincinnati to open the 2012 season and won easily. This time around, they'll have some things going for them. While they'll be dealing with the kinks of breaking in a new offensive coordinator, the Bengals will be breaking in new coordinators on both sides of the ball. That's not the worst time to take on a team.

And the Ravens have never lost a home season opener under Harbaugh. 

Although the Bengals have a ton of talent and won the division a year ago, I'm thinking the back end of the doubleheader could be tougher. The Steelers tend to give the Ravens trouble in Baltimore. Pittsburgh has won two of the past three games between the teams at M&T Bank Stadium.

But again, the Ravens should have some things going for them. Playing at home on a short week is always preferable. 

According to ESPN, the Ravens have the league's fifth-easiest schedule in 2014, based on how teams performed in 2013. Six of Baltimore's 16 games are against teams that posted double-digit losses a year ago. 

To be specific, the Ravens play the Cleveland Browns twice and the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers once apiece.

That certainly beats having to play the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, but honestly, a less formidable schedule guarantees nothing. The Ravens lost to the Browns and Buffalo Bills a year ago, and both of those games looked like wins when the schedule came out. 

It's a league of parity, of swings in fortune. A year ago, the Carolina Panthers looked like an easy opponent on a schedule; their last winning season had been in 2008. But they looked pretty good when they came through Baltimore in the preseason, and sure enough, they ended up as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Along those lines, a couple of "easy" teams on the Ravens' 2014 schedule could end up playing tougher than expected. The Atlanta Falcons fell apart in 2013, but they still have quite a few of the parts that carried them to within a few plays of a Super Bowl appearance in 2012. The Houston Texans are starting over and need a quarterback, but they have a lot of talent. 

By November, it could be hard to remember who was supposed to be easy and who was supposed to be hard when the schedule first came out.

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