Ravens' Schedule Balanced, But There Are Tough Stretches
The release of the NFL regular season schedule last night has sparked analysis and predictions from pundits even though we're still five months from Week 1.
The popular opinion regarding the Ravens' schedule – which alternates home and road games throughout the season – is that there is little to complain about (as our John Eisenberg wrote). The perfectly balanced schedule – a rarity in the NFL – is a stark contrast to the Ravens' 2018 schedule, when they had a stretch of three straight road games and four road games in five weeks.
"The Ravens become the fourth team since the NFL switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978 to receive a perfectly balanced schedule, according to ESPN Stats & Information research," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. "Over the past 41 years, the only other teams to alternate home and away every game of the season were the 1985 Atlanta Falcons [finished 4-12], the 1991 Tampa Bay Buccaneers [3-13] and the 2012 Falcons [13-3]."
One factor working against the Ravens is that they'll face two teams coming off a bye, in back-to-back weeks: the Bengals in Week 10 and Texans in Week 11.
"There are 32 teams and 32 byes to be assigned. Each team should play exactly 1 team coming off a bye," wrote Russell Street Report's Ken McKusick. "It's that simple and amazingly easy to schedule in that manner with the use of all divisional games following byes."
Even though the Ravens don't play back-to-back road games this season, that doesn't mean they don't have a tough stretch.
"Right around midseason, the Ravens have a five-game stretch where they play four playoff teams from last year, including the Patriots and Rams, the two Super Bowl combatants. And yet I wouldn't even call that their most physically demanding stretch of the season," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "That would be the four-game stretch that starts with the road game against the Rams on Monday night, Nov. 25, followed by a home matchup versus the 49ers [Dec. 1], a road game at Buffalo [Dec. 8] and then a Thursday night home game against the New York Jets [Dec. 12].
"Aside from the Rams, none of the opponents during that stretch strike fear into anyone. However, that's four games in 18 days, including two on the road and one on the West Coast, at a time in the season where each game means a ton and every team is banged up. Plus, having to start that stretch with a Monday game on the West Coast creates an extremely short following week, because the Ravens will lose much of Tuesday traveling."
Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz had a different take on what the Ravens' toughest stretch will be.
"I'll say their most difficult stretch comes early in the season — playing at the Chiefs and Steelers with a home game against the new-look Browns in between?" Kasinitz wrote of the Ravens' opponents during Weeks 3-5. "Baltimore might be happy to squeak away with one win."
Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler wrote that the Ravens must win their first two games (on the road against the Miami Dolphins and at home against the Arizona Cardinals) because of that aforementioned three-game stretch.
"Without two wins at the start of the season it could get out of hand early, even if this team has what it takes," Schisler wrote. "Baltimore needs a statement win or two in the first portion of the season. Maybe that's a win in Arrowhead or maybe it's quieting the Browns. One way or another, John Harbaugh's team needs to build confidence early in the season. If they can't win the big games this year, they won't be winning a lot of games. This is the toughest schedule the Ravens have had in years."
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer ranked the Ravens' games from easiest to hardest, and he has the Week 2 contest against the Cardinals as the easiest, followed by the Week 1 meeting with the Dolphins.
"If Arizona takes the Oklahoma quarterback No. 1 overall in the draft next week, this could be a matchup of two of the fastest starting quarterbacks ever," Shafer wrote of a potential dual between Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson.
Regarding the Dolphins game, Shaffer wrote: "Oddsmakers expect the Dolphins to win five games in 2019 — one fewer than Jackson did after replacing Joe Flacco last season."
Not surprisingly, Shaffer rated the Ravens' Week 12 game at the Los Angeles Rams and Week 3 game at the Kansas City Chiefs as the two toughest contests.
Another takeaway from the Ravens' schedule is that they will end the season at home against the arch-rival Steelers for the first time since 2007. Over the past nine seasons, the Ravens' final regular season game was against either the Bengals (seven times) or the Browns (two).
"It could be a win and get in game for both Baltimore and Pittsburgh," Schisler wrote. "The season will either end on a high that can't be matched or a low that stings for an entire offseason [and years after]. The Ravens' fans know there is nothing more intense and nerve multiplying than trying to stop Ben Roethlisberger with just moments left in the game"
Hensley made his game-by-game predictions and has the Ravens finishing 9-7. In AFC North games, Hensley forecasts the Ravens going 4-2, sweeping the Bengals and splitting with the Steelers and Browns.
ESPN's other AFC North team bloggers predict the Browns to go 11-5 (including a sweep of the Ravens), the Steelers to go 9-7 (the Ravens sweep) and the Bengals finishing 8-8 (splitting with the Ravens).
Ravens Make 'Best Games' Lists
The Ravens were mentioned on several "best games of 2019" lists following the release of the schedule.
Fansided’s Mike Phillips ranked the Ravens' game against the Browns at home in Week 4 as the season's 10th-best game.
"Cleveland will need to get by the Ravens in order to try and win the division for the first time since rejoining the NFL, and this matchup in Baltimore should be intense," Phillips wrote. "The Ravens' rabid fan base creates one of the most intimidating environments in the NFL, so watching how the young Browns navigate that challenge will be appointment viewing."
MMQB’s Jonathan Jones named the Ravens' Week 11 game against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium as one of his 10 games to watch.
"Two of last season's playoff teams are led by two of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the league and two of the best defenses in the NFL," Jones wrote. "Lamar Jackson beat out Deshaun Watson in the Heisman voting in 2016. Can he edge him here?"
NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus’ list of 10 "juiciest revenge games" included the Ravens' Earl Thomas going to Seattle to play his former team in Week 7.
"It was an ignominious end to what had been a brilliant run in Seattle, including six Pro Bowl nods and a Super Bowl ring in nine seasons," Hanzus wrote. "Thomas is now the crown jewel of the Baltimore Ravens' secondary. You think he'll be amped to be hitting humans wearing Seahawks helmets in his return to Seattle?"
Thomas won't be the only veteran facing his former team. The Ravens' trip to Los Angeles will include a reunion with Eric Weddle. Check out his (and his teammates') reactions to the announcement that Baltimore is coming to play his Rams on Monday Night Football.
Mark Ingram Poised for Breakout Season
Ravens running back Mark Ingram was cited by Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport as one of seven players poised for a breakout role with their new teams.
"Ingram had a quiet 2018 campaign. The 29-year-old missed four games due to a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and posted his fewest rushing yards since 2013," Davenport wrote. "By season's end, he had taken more than just a back seat to Alvin Kamara -- counting the postseason he didn't have more than 12 touches in any of the Saints' last four games.
"Ingram isn't going to be any complementary piece in Baltimore. … The smart money's on Ingram emerging as the No. 1 option and quite possibly topping 300 touches for the first time in his career. If Ingram holds up under that increased workload, he could do something in 2019 he's never done before: lead the NFL in rushing."
Jaylen Smith 'Can't Help but Think About' Reunion With Lamar Jackson'
Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith reiterated on Glenn Clark Radio that he would welcome the opportunity to reunite with former college teammate Lamar Jackson on the Ravens.
"It's just one of those things you can't help but think about," said Smith, who is projected as a late-round draft pick. "He's one of those once-in-a-generation type guys, and I would say it would be a profound experience for me to come and be able to say that my college quarterback was also my NFL quarterback."
Jackson and Smith, who connected on 13 touchdowns over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, worked out together this offseason.
"It felt like we've been doing this for weeks and weeks, and it was like second nature to us," Smith said. "I think that's one thing that is going to keep speculation at an all-time high."
When asked about the notion that some wide receivers don't want to play with a quarterback with Jackson's skill set, Smith said: "People try to paint a picture, but I can honestly say that him running got me open a lot more than just him sitting in the pocket. Anybody who says they don't want to play with him because he's a running quarterback, it's their loss."