Even before the Ravens' 2021 schedule is released, one thing is clear. It's going to be challenging.
The Ravens have the league's second-toughest schedule when calculated by opponents' combined 2020 record. Baltimore's opponents went a 152-118-2 last season for a winning percentage of .563.
The only team with a tougher schedule is the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the AFC North crown last year and thus face a first-place schedule. Their opponents had a .574 winning percentage last year.
Of course, strength of schedule based on last year's records isn't a great measuring tool. A lot has changed this offseason and will continue to change over the course of the season. A team that was good last year may not be this year, and vice versa.
With that said, here are four reasons why the Ravens' schedule looks so tough on paper right now:
AFC North may be the best division (again) in the NFL.
The AFC North was the only division in the NFL to send three teams to last year's playoffs: Pittsburgh (12-4), Baltimore (11-5) and Cleveland (11-5). None appear headed for a drop-off this year.
Pittsburgh spent much of its efforts trying to keep everyone together for another run, while the Ravens and Browns have both made big-time additions this offseason. Bengals are expected to take another step forward with quarterback Joe Burrow recovered from a season-ending knee injury and dangerous offensive weapons around him.
It's going to be tough sledding in six AFC North games yet again – perhaps even tougher than last year.
The Chiefs and the AFC West await.
The entire AFC North takes on the AFC West this season, meaning the Ravens will face the Kansas City Chiefs for the fourth straight year. The Chiefs went 14-2 last year and reached another Super Bowl. They have beaten the Ravens in three straight meetings, leading Lamar Jackson to call them their "kryptonite."
The Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) and Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) are two tough teams, with the Chargers particularly on the rise behind second-year quarterback Justin Herbert, the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Denver Broncos (5-11) are never an easy out with a tough defense.
A tough NFC slate with more changes coming?
The AFC North will also take on the NFC North, which means tangling with the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. The Packers (13-3) and Bears (8-8) made the playoffs last year, and the Vikings (7-9) were in the hunt.
A lot has changed in the division this offseason. The Bears have a new rookie quarterback in Justin Fields. The Lions are in an overhaul (GM, head coach, quarterback). If reportedly disgruntled Aaron Rodgers leaves the Packers this offseason, that would be a huge shake-up. This division is a real wild-card heading into the year.
The Ravens will face one other NFC team in the inaugural year of the 17th regular-season game. The Los Angeles Rams, who were 10-6 last season, will come to M&T Bank Stadium. The Rams and Lions swapped veteran quarterbacks (Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford) this offseason.
The second-place schedule isn't much easier.
The reason why the Steelers have a slightly tougher schedule than the Ravens is because they finished in first place in the AFC North last season. That means they got the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, the AFC East and AFC South champs, on their schedule.
As second-place finishers in the AFC North, the Ravens got the other second-place finishers from the East and South – the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts. The Dolphins had three fewer wins than the Bills last season, but the Titans and Colts finished tied with 11 wins. So it's not like the Ravens are getting a "weaker" team. With a new head coach and quarterback (Carson Wentz) the Colts are looking to surpass Tennessee as the AFC South's lead dog.