Some takeaways on the Ravens' 2020 regular season schedule:
I read/heard plenty of speculation about this year's NFL schedule possibly being unlike any other due to the coronavirus pandemic, with all sorts of variables built in to make things easier if games are delayed, postponed, moved, whatever. In the end, the league has put out a schedule that is as normal as can be, seemingly no different from any other year's. If anything, that can be taken as a hopeful sign, i.e., the league hopes the season will start on time and proceed normally. But of course, right now there's just no way of knowing; as with almost everything in our world, the NFL's path forward is unclear and dependent on factors beyond its control. Bottom line, this schedule is a best-case scenario, and it could happen, and it's all we have to talk about right now, so let's do it.
You knew it was coming. After playing three prime-time games per season in both 2018 and 2019, the Ravens were bound to see the networks' interest in them spike considerably in 2020. It's what happens when your young quarterback is a dynamic league MVP whose highlights routinely blow up TVs and social media. Sure enough, the Ravens will play five games in prime time in 2020. In fact, most of their marquee games will take place under the lights. They'll play the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns on Monday night, the New England Patriots on Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving night and the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night. Remember that old refrain, heard around here for years, that the networks had something "against" Baltimore? Forget it. The Ravens and Lamar Jackson have become appointment viewing and the networks are all about it. Baltimore will play four night games in a 29-day period in November and early December. Such is the price of success.
A quick thought about playing the Steelers on Thanksgiving night in Pittsburgh: The Ravens can only hope it is a more pleasant experience than their Christmas night game at Heinz Field in 2016, when they lost in the last minute and were knocked out of the playoff race. (What is it about the schedule sending Baltimore to Pittsburgh on holidays?)
This surely ranks among the most compelling home schedules the Ravens have offered. Aside from the usual AFC North matchups, the slate of games at M&T Bank Stadium includes: 1) an early-season matchup with the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Chiefs, that will rank among the league's most anticipated games of 2020; 2) the Cowboys' first trip to Baltimore in eight years; and 3) a chance for the Ravens to avenge January's bitter playoff exit when the Tennessee Titans visit. And those AFC North matchups are hardly routine this year. A season-opener against the Cleveland Browns will provide another referendum on whether the talented Browns are starting to get their act together. The Cincinnati Bengals will come to town with the league's top rookie quarterback, Joe Burrow. And the Steelers' visit needs no explanation.
The most interesting aspect of the Ravens' 2019 schedule was how it went road-home-road-home the entire way, which meant no back-to-back games either at home or away from home. It was very fair, and the situation is nearly replicated this year. The Ravens play back-to-back road games in November and back-to-back home games in December, and otherwise alternate. Again, it's very fair. The back-to-back road games are in what, for me, is the toughest part of the schedule – a six-game run from Oct. 11 to Nov. 26 that includes games against the Patriots, Titans and Eagles, all of whom made the playoffs last season, as well as both Pittsburgh games and a trip to Indianapolis to play the Colts and Philip Rivers. That's definitely a challenging run.
What the Ravens should like about their schedule: 1) the bye is right where you want it, in late October, offering the players the break they need halfway through the season; 2) if they're in a down-to-the-wire fight for a division title or playoff spot, the last three games are relatively forgiving with back-to-back home games against the Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10 last season) and New York Giants (4-12), followed by a season finale in Cincinnati (1-15); 3) the Ravens don't have far to travel on the short weeks after their Monday night games; and 4) as we knew beforehand, the .438 combined 2019 winning percentage of their 2020 opponents is the lowest for any team.