Late For Work 4/14: Ravens Have Easiest Schedule In AFC North

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*Ravens Have Easiest Schedule In AFC North *

It looks like the 2015 NFL schedule will be unveiled a week from Thursday on April 23, according to ProFootballTalk.com, with the note that the date could change.

Before the Ravens' full slate of 16 regular-season games is officially revealed, we already have an idea of what it will look like:

1) We already know the list of opponents

This list was finalized at the end of the 2014 season.

Home: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Away: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins.

2) Ravens have the "easiest" schedule in the AFC North – on paper

Even though the Ravens advanced the furthest in the playoffs of all division teams, they get an "easier" schedule because they finished third (10-6) in the AFC North at the end of the regular season behind Pittsburgh (11-5) and Cincinnati (10-5).

I put "easier" in quotes because it's based on opponent win percentage from last season. In a league of parity, the 2015 win percentage could easily flip. That said, the Ravens draw the third-place finishers of the AFC East and AFC South (Dolphins and Jaguars), while the Steelers draw the first-place finishers (Patriots and Colts) and Cincinnati draws the second-place finishers (Bills and Texans). While the Browns draw the fourth-place finishers (Jets and Titans), they still overall have a slightly tougher schedule on paper than the Ravens, in part because they play each other.

Pittsburgh (.578 opponent win percentage) and Cincinnati (.563) not only have the toughest schedules in the division, but they have the toughest schedules in the league. The Ravens schedule (.539) is the 11th toughest in the league.

Below is ESPN Stats and Information's strength of schedule list.

3) The Ravens will likely start their season on the road, possibly against the Raiders

This one is usually easy to figure out based on the Orioles schedule. The two professional Baltimore sports teams share parking lots, so there is generally only room for one game each day. The Orioles are at home during the NFL's opening weekend, but they are away the following two Sundays.

"Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the Ravens expect to play on the road to start the season," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "That was the message relayed to me by team president Dick Cass at the NFL owners meetings last month."

That means the Ravens will open against one of eight away opponents listed above. While a Steelers-Ravens opener is always a good draw, it might not be this year. Hensley sees the Patriots' Thursday night NFL opener against the Steelers. So instead, he predicts the Ravens opening in Oakland.

"The Ravens have played an AFC North team in five of the last eight season openers. But I could see the Ravens starting out west to break up the four long trips, especially if Baltimore is going to play at home in Weeks 2 and 3 (when the Orioles are on the road)," wrote Hensley. "My guess is the Ravens open at Oakland – the A's are away that weekend. It would be a nice way to celebrate the Ravens' 20th season in the NFL. It was two decades ago when the Ravens played their first game as a franchise against the Raiders."

4) No guarantee NFL will grant Ravens' request to have back-to-back games on the West Coast

Ravens brass asked the NFL to schedule its games in Oakland and San Francisco in back-to-back weeks so the team could stay out west all week. But Cass told our own Ryan Mink he's not sure that will happen because other teams made the same request. The Packers, Vikings and Bengals also play in the two cities this season.

What are the chances of getting their wish?

"The NFL wouldn't want to show favoritism to the Ravens by allowing them to be the only team with consecutive games on the West Coast," wrote Hensley. "The Packers and Vikings likely wouldn't have a major problem with it because they don't have the same cross-country trip as the Ravens. But the Bengals, a division rival, would probably want the same perk as the Ravens. I'm honestly not sure how difficult it would be for the schedule makers to make this happen for two teams. I believe it's possible, but I wouldn't bet on it."

King: RB Melvin Gordon Won't Get Past Ravens At No. 26

Highly touted Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon could help break the recent NFL trend of running backs not being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

The Ravens may help him break it.

TheMMQB.com's Peter King wrote that Gordon "will not get past Baltimore at No. 26."

The Ravens' need at running back isn't as big after they re-signed last season's Pro Bowl starter Justin Forsett, but General Manager Ozzie Newsome doesn't draft based on need and he's excited about Forsett's ability to help mentor young players. The Ravens also need more depth with the top three backs currently being Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Gordon was highly productive in college, churning out a whopping 2,587 rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns in 2014. He also worked with Ravens Running Backs Coach Thomas Hammock during his freshman and sophomore years at Wisconsin.

"King cautions that two weeks before the draft is too early to take this information to Vegas, which is certainly true," wrote ProFootballTalk.com's Josh Alper. "There are 31 other teams in the league and teams will be making moves up and down the draft board and Baltimore may be one of the teams deciding to change their position.

"There's also the possibility that the Ravens want teams to think they've got their hearts set on Gordon when another player is really the apple of their eye, to say nothing of the chance that someone they didn't think would be available would drop into their laps come April 30."

After Ravens Reportedly Showed Interest, Crabtree Signs With Raiders

The word out of the Bay Area yesterday morning was the Ravens were one of three teams that had "shown the most interest in signing" wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

Apparently it wasn't enough interest as Crabtree announced later in the afternoon that he was officially an Oakland Raider. Crabtree agreed to a one-year deal worth $3 million, with another $2 million in incentives, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

PFT's Michael David Smith wondered whether the Ravens would have been more interested in Crabtree after May 12, when signing free agents would no longer count against the compensatory pick formula. Perhaps it would have been better for Crabtree's career had he waited …

The Jonathan Ogden-Lawrence Phillips Decision

What if Newsome had taken running back Lawrence Phillips as the first draft pick in Ravens history?

He was projected to the Ravens in mock drafts, and was the preference of Owner Art Modell, but Newsome took a future Hall of Famer in Jonathan Ogden instead.

The fact that pass rusher Simeon Rice rocketed up draft boards to No. 3 overall, pushing Ogden to No. 4 where the Ravens were waiting, may have saved Baltimore.

Not only was Phillips considered a draft bust, but he is now under investigation for allegedly murdering his cellmate over the weekend. He was in prison on auto theft and domestic violence charges in California.

"Oh, what could have been," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jon Meoli.

"As if there was any doubt that selecting Jonathan Ogden over Phillips as the first draft pick in Ravens history back in 1996 was the right move — and to be clear, there isn't — this latest allegation only makes it clearer."

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