Will Ravens Make Playoffs? Predicting Regular-Season Record
With Thursday night's NFL schedule release, the Ravens now know the exact road they must travel to return to the playoffs after missing out the last two years.
Baltimore was named one of the schedule "winners" by ESPN's Kevin Seifert, who says the Ravens have a favorable start and close to the season that should help their postseason goals.
On paper, Baltimore has the NFL's "easiest" September against three teams with a combined* *.219 winning percentage in 2016. (That said, the late September and early October games will be challenging from a travel perspective, considering Baltimore opens in Cincy, travels to London in Week 3, and flies to Oakland in Week 5 with Pittsburgh in between.)
To end the season, the Ravens will enjoy four of the last six games at home, and one of those road games will be against the Cleveland Browns, who the Ravens hold a 27-9 all-time series record over.
"From a schedule perspective, at least, the Ravens have a good chance to get themselves back into the playoffs," wrote Seifert.
"If they're on the playoff bubble, it will be especially nice for them to host the Bengals in Week 17 rather than having to go to Cincinnati," added The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker.
The minimum requirement to advance to the AFC wild-card round last year was a 9-7 record from the Houston Texans, which the 8-8 Ravens barely missed out on.
Will 9-7 be enough again this year?
It'd be nice, especially if ESPN's Jamison Hensley's predictions come true, which has Baltimore finishing 9-7. It'd be a whole lot better if Baltimore finished 10-6 and won the AFC North, however, the record the folks at Baltimore Beatdown are projecting.
Let's take a look Hensley's game-by-game breakdown.
Week 1 @ Cincinnati Bengals: Loss
Hensley: "Baltimore has lost more games in Cincinnati than anywhere else in the nine-year John Harbaugh era."
Week 2 vs. Cleveland Browns: WinHensley: "The Ravens have defeated the Browns in eight of the last nine meetings at M&T Bank Stadium."
Week 3 @ Jacksonville Jaguars (London): WinHensley: "For the first international game in franchise history, the Ravens get to play one of America's worst professional sports teams."
Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: WinHensley: "While jet lag could be a factor here, the Ravens have won four straight games against their biggest rival at home."
Week 5 @ Oakland Raiders: LossHensley: "The Ravens will lose for the final time in the Black Hole because of their inability to stop [QB Derek Carr] late in games."
Week 6 vs. Chicago Bears: WinHensley: "The Bears put their struggling franchise in the hands of Mike Glennon, a 27-year-old quarterback who has appeared in two games since 2014."
Week 7 @ Minnesota Vikings: LossHensley: "For now, let's assume [QB Sam] Bradford suits up."
Week 8 vs. Miami Dolphins: WinHensley: "Joe Flacco has owned the Dolphins."
Week 9 @Tennessee Titans: LossHensley: "Much like the Raiders last season, the Titans are looking like the AFC team that will take that next step to being a playoff team."
Week 10 BYE WEEK
Week 11 @ Green Bay Packers: LossHensley: "The Ravens have lost on all three of their trips to legendary Lambeau Field."
Week 12 vs. Houston Texans: WinHensley: "Unless Houston can upgrade from Tom Savage at quarterback, it looks like the Ravens will remain perfect against the Texans [at home]."
Week 13 vs. Detroit Lions: WinHensley: "[QB Matt] Stafford is a different quarterback away from the comfy confines of Ford Field."
Week 14 @ Pittsburgh Steelers: LossHensley: "The Ravens lost at Heinz Field on Christmas Day last year because they couldn't stop [QB Ben] Roethlisberger when it mattered."
Week 15 @ Cleveland Browns: WinHensley: "The Ravens have made themselves at home in Cleveland."
Week 16 vs. Indianapolis Colts: LossHensley: "Even though Baltimore upgraded its secondary, this will be the one surprising home loss of the season."
Week 17 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: WinHensley: "Baltimore is also 10-0 in regular-season finales played at home."
Nitpicking Ravens 'Balanced' Schedule; Pittsburgh's Is Easier
It's hard to criticize Baltimore's 2017 schedule …
Spaced out travel? Check! The home and away games flip-flop nearly every week.
A long-awaited Monday night football game? Check! It's Week 12 against the Texans. Since Harbaugh's 2008 arrival, the Ravens had played in an NFL-high 11 of 12 Monday night games on the road.
A delayed bye? Check! The Ravens got a mid-season break in Week 10.
Favorable finishing stretch? Check! Four of the last six games are at home.
No season finale in Cincy? Check! The Bengals are coming to M&T Bank Stadium Week 17.
That said, fans and media were able to nitpick and find a few complaints.
The most common is that the Ravens must travel through nine time zones in a matter of two weeks (from London to Oakland), while having to face the biggest rival Steelers in between, presumably with a little jet lag. Plus, for the second consecutive year, the primetime game against the Steelers will be on Heinz Field, while the less-touted 1 p.m. game is in Baltimore.
Probably the worst thing about the Ravens' schedule is the Steelers' 16-game slate might be easier despite making the playoffs last year. Baltimore has the league's ninth-easiest schedule based on opponents' combined record from last season (.461), but Pittsburgh is tied for the fifth-easiest (.453).
"The Steelers are one of the few teams that elicited an immediate 'wow' after my initial view of the 2017 schedule," wrote NFL.com's Conor Orr. "Of any team, Pittsburgh has one of the best chances of heading into its bye week (Nov. 5) undefeated, thanks to a schedule that breaks quite nicely. The Steelers start the year on the road against Cleveland before a difficult home opener vs. the Vikings. After that? The Bears, the Ravens in Baltimore a week after they return from London, the Jaguars, the Chiefs, the Bengals and the Lions.
"Of course there are going to be some challenges there -- the Vikings at home, a road game against Kansas City -- but arguably Pittsburgh's hardest game against the division-rival Ravens comes when the team is just barely getting back on EST. The Steelers also finish the season against the Texans and Browns, which is advantageous in any sort of tight divisional scenario."
Failed Drug Test Could Force Reuben Foster To Slide … To Ravens?
There was already talk about Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster potentially sliding to the middle of the first-round despite being considered by most analysts as a top-10 prospect talent-wise.
That's because he was dismissed from the NFL Scouting Combine in February after a confrontation with medical staff. General Manager Ozzie Newsome put no stock in the incident, saying it didn't change his view of Foster because of the reliable information he gets from has Alabama alma mater.
But that incident, along with a failed drug test from the combine that was reported Thursday, could cause Foster to slide down other teams' draft boards. The Crimson Tide linebacker also has a surgically repaired shoulder that won't help his stock.
NFL Network's draft guru Daniel Jerimiah agrees with Zrebiec. He told Garrett Downing on "The Lounge" podcast last week that if Foster made it to the 16th-overall pick, he'd be shocked if Baltimore didn't take him.
As for the drug test itself, Jeremiah doesn't think it should hurt Foster too much because the result was "diluted," which is treated as a failed test. Foster doesn't have a history of failed drug tests, and he explained to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that he thinks he had food poisoning heading into the combine and he was trying to drink as many fluids as possible to help with his vomiting, cramping and diarrhea.
"I couldn't eat much, but I had to drink water and Gatorade," Foster told Rapoport. "Then a few coaches said something about me being too light. And I'm a coach-pleaser. I don't care what everybody thinks, but I care what coaches think. So I drank and ate as much as I could without throwing up. Then I went in there, drinking and drinking water, trying to flush out my system from whatever was making me sick and trying to keep my weight up and took the test."