Good thing we finished last.
The 2008 NFL schedules were released on Tuesday, and the lineup did not offer too many surprises for the Ravens, as their opponents for the upcoming season were set on New Year's Eve. And although we are facing off against two of the most competitive divisions in the league - the AFC South and NFC East - not to mention the internal battles in the AFC North, it could have been worse. Just ask the Steelers, whose Division Champion hats and t-shirts also included a free trip to New England and a visit from the Chargers in 2008. Not the most appealing parting gifts.
And don't expect the Dawg Pound's frowning faces to change much after seeing that their first 10-win season since re-entering the NFL earned them a Thursday night battle with the Broncos, along with a trip to Buffalo in November for a Monday Night game. That's "night," as in no sun and abundance of chill in the air.
As for the Ravens, their last place finish resulted in a return trip to Miami, along with a visit from the Raiders. The mantra of the NFL is Any Given Sunday, but spending an October afternoon under the Florida sunshine sounds slightly more attractive than a night fight fought within the swirling winds off Lake Erie. Apparently the Bills don't love the weather at the Ralph all that much either, as they will play a home game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto for their first of five regular season games to be played at the home of the CFL's Argonauts. Appropriately, they will take on the Dolphins, who inaugurated the NFL's London experiment last season. (The Chargers and Saints will play across the pond on Oct. 26 this year.)
Among the marquee matchups for the men in purple and black this season is a pre-Thanksgiving squabble with coach Harbaugh's former flock from Philly. The Eagles come to the Charm City on Nov. 23, just one week after the Ravens battle the Super Bowl Champion Giants in New York. The NFC East tour is completed with a battle of the beltways played in Baltimore on Dec. 7 against the Redskins and a Saturday Night prime-time match up with the Dallas Cowboys in what will be the last regular season game played in Texas Stadium (Fitting, considering the Ravens are the only current NFL team never to have played there). Regardless of how the Ravens fare during the first nine weeks of the season, they will be sure to play a role in the fortunes of at least one division as they take on all NFC East foes after Week 10.
The Ravens are also scheduled to make at least one more appearance with a national audience watching as they once again travel to play Pittsburgh under the lights on Monday night. Last year, the Steelers stung quick, scoring five touchdowns in a swampy first half that ended in a 38-7 defeat. But unlike 2007, the Men of Steel won't have their 75th Anniversary team looking on as they did last November. Seeing Jerome Bettis, Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann outside the locker room before the game sure made me nervous.
The Ravens will close out the regular season at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It should be a competitive game with former Ravens defensive coach Jack Del Rio bringing his surging Jags to town. However, the day will belong to a few other former Baltimore footballers as Dec. 28 will mark the 50th Anniversary of The Greatest Game Ever Played. The 1958 NFL Title Game was played in Yankee Stadium and saw Johnny Unitas lead the Baltimore Colts over the New York Giants to win the Championship. The magnitude of the game was amplified by the fact that the title tilt was the first football championship to be nationally televised, the after-effects of which are still evident today with games across the border and across the Atlantic.
On the surface, the 2008 Ravens schedule appears competitive, yet balanced, with only one pair of back-to-back away games (Indianapolis – 10/12 and Miami – 10/19) and based on last year's records, an easier first half to ease our way into the season.
Of course, that was the prominent sentiment among fans and the media last spring as well. So back to the NFL mantra, on Any Given Day, defeat is just a bounce off the crossbar away. This year, let's just hope the bounces go our way.