Could the 2011 season have ended any more painfully for the Baltimore Ravens and its fans?
The team was a Lee Evans drop in the end zone away from the Super Bowl, and a Billy Cundiff missed field goal from at least taking the New England Patriots to overtime in the AFC Championship.
Instead, the Ravens came up just short again.
But hopes should be high for the team heading into 2012—the Ravens remain one of the NFL's elite teams. And while the schedule isn't easy, this team should find its way into the playoffs for the seventh time in the past eight years.
Week 2 9/16: Baltimore Ravens vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1 PM ET FOX
Week 3 9/23: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens, 8 PM ET NBC
Week 4 9/27: Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens, 7:20 PM ET NFL Network
Week 5 10/7: Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 1 PM ET CBS
Week 6 10/14: Dallas Cowboys vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 PM ET FOX
Week 7 10/21: Baltimore Ravens vs. Houston Texans, 1 PM ET CBS
Week 8 10/28: BYE
Week 9 11/4: Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 PM ET CBS
Week 10 11/11: Oakland Raiders vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 PM ET CBS
Week 11 11/18: Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:20 PM ET NBC
Week 12 11/25: Baltimore Ravens vs. San Diego Chargers, 4:05 PM ET CBS
Week 13 12/2: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens, 4:15 PM ET CBS
Week 14 12/9: Baltimore Ravens vs. Washington Redskins, 1 PM ET FOX
Week 15 12/16: Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 PM ET CBS
Week 16 12/23: New York Giants vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 PM ET FOX
Week 17 12/30: Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1 PM ET CBS
The Ravens have a potentially brutal schedule ahead of them.
As if having to face the Pittsburgh Steelers and improved Cincinnati Bengals twice wasn't difficult enough, they also have contests against the Patriots, Texans, an AFC West that should be more competitive than last year and the always-difficult NFC East.
That's right, the Ravens defense gets to do battle against Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Tony Romo and (more than likely) Robert Griffin III next year.
At least at first glance, the Ravens don't have many gimmes on the schedule next season. Luckily for them, they're talented enough to beat any team they face.
Which Game on the Schedule Poses the Biggest Challange?
Most Pivotal Matchup
As always, it will be the two games against the Steelers. While the Bengals are an improved team, the AFC North will still likely fall to the either the Steelers or Ravens.
Surely, revenge will be on the team's mind when they face the Patriots, and another playoff rematch against the Texans should be exciting.
But no rivalry in football has been better or had more at stake in recent memory than the one between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. As always, the two meetings between the teams will be truly compelling.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are growing a playoff beard.