The Ravens have learned their 2020 schedule, but it's natural to wonder exactly when the season will begin.
After winning the MVP award last season and leading the Ravens to a 14-2 regular season, Lamar Jackson was asked last month if he ever thinks about the 2020 season being cancelled due to COVID-19. Jackson would not go there.
"The world needs football," Jackson said. "I think we'll be playing football this year, so I'm not going to put that in my mind."
Seeing the scheduled unveiled Thursday night was another reminder of how much players love to compete. Mark Ingram II and Orlando Brown Jr. had priceless reactions to hearing the Ravens' schedule revealed.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Thursday evening, acknowledging how much fans look forward to seeing the schedule. He also said the schedule could be modified if dictated by health concerns.
"The release of the NFL schedule is something our fans eagerly anticipate every year, as they look forward with hope and optimism to the season ahead," Goodell said. "In preparing to play the season as scheduled, we will continue to make our decisions based on the latest medical and public health advice, in compliance with government regulations.
"We will be prepared to make adjustments as necessary, as we have during this offseason in safely and efficiently conducting key activities such as free agency, the virtual draft off-season program, and the 2020 NFL draft."
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that there are many "trap doors" within the schedule that would allow for it to be modified if needed, including pushing the Super Bowl back and playing missed games at the end of the currently scheduled regular season. According to Schefter, the season could start at any point and all teams share the same bye week as their Week 2 opponent. The Ravens do share a Week 8 bye with the Houston Texans.
For players, staying optimistic that the season will be played can help them focus during these uncertain times. Safety Chuck Clark said he's not absolutely certain what will happen, but he doesn't dwell on negative thoughts.
"Yes, it crosses your mind, but at the end of the day, being a professional athlete, at some point this will all clear up and it will get better," Clark said. "When it's over, you're a professional athlete, and that's what you're asked to do. So you have to be in tip-top shape to be ready to play.
"Your opponent is in the same situation that you are, so we're all out there on the same playing field. We've all been through the same thing, so it's all up to you to train to get your work in and make sure you're ready."
Tight end Mark Andrews has been training in his native Arizona, concentrating on the things he can control. Andrews is coming off a Pro Bowl season, an emerging star on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. He wants to play badly, but he's working out and remaining patient.
"You look ahead and you ask yourself, 'Is there going to be football this season?'" Andrews said. "I don't think anybody knows. It's about focusing on family right now and then just listening to all your health officials. Knowing that everybody is in this together, everyone's going to help fight this virus together, so that's where our minds are going to be at right now. We're not sure what's going to happen, but we have to focus on the things that matter. That's family and social distancing and being smart."
The NFL wasn't interrupted in midseason like the NBA and NHL, who had their current seasons come to a screeching halt, leaving their players in limbo. Andrews said being forced to the sidelines during the middle of a season would have been much harder to deal with.
"Those other sports that are dealing with this, it's super tough," Andrews said. "I can't imagine being in that position. It's not a normal time – nothing is really normal right now. Hopefully, those seasons can pick back up soon."
Meanwhile, the NFL has continued its offseason virtually with success. Free agency was held on schedule, with the Ravens making some huge moves including trading for defensive lineman Calais Campbell and signing defensive lineman Derek Wolfe. The league's first virtual draft was well received, and the Ravens got rave reviews for their 10-player draft class, headed by first-round inside linebacker Patrick Queen.
The Ravens' schedule has the look of any other season. The Ravens open at home on Sept. 13 against an AFC North opponent, the Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore's first three games are against AFC opponents.
NFL Executive Vice President Troy Vincent reiterated that the league is moving forward as if a full season will begin as scheduled. The players hope that's exactly what happens.
"The plan is to move forward as normal, to play a full season, a full schedule until the medical community tells us otherwise," Vincent said on NFL Network. "This is the schedule. We're excited about this schedule."