Ravens Have Toughest Schedule Of Division
Head Coach John Harbaugh preaches it all the time.
The first goal of the regular season is to win the AFC North.
That means the defending Super Bowl champs need to first win all their division games, but they'd also like to see their rivals take on a tough schedule.
That doesn't appear to be happening this season, however, if you look at each team's strength of schedule based off opponents' 2012 records. (Obviously* *the outlook for each team could, and most likely will, change by the end of the season once we know how good each opponent is in 2013.)
The Ravens have the toughest schedule of the season by far, with the Bengals coming in second with the 12th toughest.
In the end, each division rival has something to complain about, and something to smile about when looking at their upcoming lineup.
Let's take a look:
Strength Of Schedule(based on the opponents' 2012 records)Ravens: 5th toughest, 0.535 strength of schedule (SOS)
Bengals: 12th toughest, 0.508 SOS
Browns: 21st toughest, 0.492 SOS
Steelers: 22nd toughest, 0.492 SOS
Primetime GamesRavens: 4, including 3 in final 5 weeks
Steelers: 4, including 2 in 3 weeks
Bengals: 3, including 2 vs. Pittsburgh
Browns: 1, Thurs. night vs. Bills
Something To Complain AboutRavens: opening on road as Super Bowl champs against one of AFC's toughest, four road matchups in five-game stretch, short week to prepare for Pats
Steelers:three out of four games on road after bye, traveling to New England after cross-country trip to Oakland, only one home game in October (vs. Ravens), playing on the road before traveling to Baltimore for Thanksgiving game
Bengals:open on road for fourth consecutive time, four road games in five weeks in middle of season
Browns: two of first three games on road while learning a new system with a new coach, three of final four games on road against tough teams (Pats, Jets, Steelers)
Something To Thank League ForRavens: four primetime games, Pittsburgh at M&T Bank Stadium Thanksgiving night, toughest games (five of seven playoff teams) at home, favorable home opener vs. Browns, well-timed bye, three-game homestand in November/December, leaving Eastern time zone only once (Chicago)
Steelers: London game, bye week following London, primetime love despite 8-8 2012 season, home game vs. former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, strength of schedule (22nd hardest)
Bengals:chance to finish strong with two home games, the tough road stretch is softened by playing three teams with losing records from last season, primetime love
Browns: open at home, three in a row at home, strength of schedule (21st hardest)
Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't
Well, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.
That's the life of an NFL schedule maker.
The league has the defending world champion Ravens in primetime four times this season, including a much-anticipated Turkey Bowl against the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.
My colleague John Eisenberg says that's a sign of respect, but CSN Baltimore's Rob Carlin believes it will make the final five games of the season a brutal stretch, so brutal that he thinks Ravens fans will think they got "screwed."
The final stretch includes:
Thurs. Nov. 28 Pit. 8:30 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 8 Min. 1:00 p.m.
Mon. Dec. 16 at Det. 8:40 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 22 NE 8:30 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 29 at Cin. 1:00 p.m.
"As soon as we saw [the closing five games], we jumped out and said that is a tough stretch of games with three nationally televised games; Steelers, Lions and Patriots on a short week.
"I can tell you right now, sports talk radio in Baltimore tomorrow is going to be talking about how the defending Super Bowl champions got screwed because they got a short week against the Patriots who are going to be coming off a normal seven-day week."
Still, you will likely also find a large contingent of fans thanking the league for showing the Ravens respect by highlighting them on the national stage so often.
Carlin says that the players won't like the final stretch because they like the 1 p.m. games so they can follow a routine. Again, you'll likely also find a contingent of players that enjoy the spotlight.
Which side of the fence you stand on may be influenced by whether you prefer the respect or the routine. Both have its pluses and negatives.
Ravens Over O's Conflict, Critical Rex Ryan Is Not
The Ravens are over the scheduling conflict with the Orioles that forced the World Champions to open the 2013 season on the road, breaking a decade-long tradition of Super Bowl winners opening at home.
That doesn't mean Rex Ryan is over it.
The Ravens' former defensive coordinator and Jets head coach teed off on the O's, who share parking lots* *with the Ravens, for not finding a way to move their home game and allow the champs to have a celebratory home opener.
"I understand the Orioles are playing a game at home. Well, who really cares, you've got 81 at home, maybe you could have done the right thing and given one up and then played 82 on the road and then 80 at home," Ryan said, per the New York Daily News and USA Today. "I really don't think people are going to care about that game.
"You have a chance to have the defending world champs open up the season at home where they rightfully should. That's unfortunate."
Ryan, who once caught Harbs' opening pitch at an Orioles game in 2008, hasn't coached in Baltimore for about five years. Why is he so upset with the situation?
ProFootballTalk.com believes that Ryan was trying to avoid questions about a reunion game against cornerback Darrelle Revis.
But Ryan has his own explanation.
"It's my love of this game, of the National Football League," Ryan said. "The defending champion, in my opinion, should always open at home. They've earned that right. To think that something couldn't have been worked out, that's disappointing. If baseball had a 16-game schedule, you might understand it. But when they have 162 games, I think you might just, out of common courtesy, say, 'You know what, maybe I'll play this one on the road or whatever.'
"It's not just my love of Baltimore, I do love Baltimore, but I love this New York area here better than I do Baltimore now. It's just the way it is. It's not just my loyalty to that fan base."
Ray Lewis Most Valuable Pick Of This Era
ESPN the Magazine has declared Ray Lewis the league's most valuable pick since 1994.
The Ravens' second pick of all time edged out Patriots quarterback Tom Brady based off a calculation called Surplus Approximate Value (AV). AV measures what players produced during their career against what he was expected to produce based off where he was drafted.
Even though Lewis won two Super Bowls, earned a Super Bowl MVP award and two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, The Baltimore Sun's Matt Vensel was a little surprised to see Lewis beat out Brady.
"[T]he expectations for a sixth-rounder compared to a first-rounder would be significantly lower," Vensel wrote. "That being said, Brady can surpass Lewis in another year or two if he continues to perform at a Pro Bowl level."
Ed Reed, who will return to Baltimore in Week 3, retweeted the painful fan picture to the right … @Jonathon_Cox89: We ready!!! @TwentyER [Twitter] * RT@TwentyER: @CasterMatthews: @TwentyER As a Baltimore fan it stingsseeing another teams Jersey with 20 on it but best of luck to ya. #NoHater #GOAT #LegendStatus [Twitter] * @TorreySmithWR: We have another tough schedule...looking forward to the challenge #ravensnation [Twitter] * @mvpbig [Ramon Harewood]: No need to fuss over schedules... Games still gotta be played and games still gotta be won... No matter who is on there... [Twitter] * The season opener in Denver is a "gift" to the Broncos. [ESPN] * The FBI in Cleveland? What's going on with the Browns? [Cleveland Plain Dealer] * @AlbertBreer: I think the Browns might just be cursed ... [Twitter] * @Ravens: Mike Mayock said that the Ravens could trade up in the first round, but it's more likely that they move back. [Twitter] * @RavensInsider: Mike Mayock reiterated that it's unlikely Manti Teo, Alec Ogletree, Kevin Minter, Matt Elam and Jonathan Cyprien would all be gone by No. 32 [Twitter]