I often wonder if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and Paul Tagliabue before him, stands in front of a mirror prior to nights like last evening and shouts “Carpe Diem.” How could they not when the NFL collects millions of advertising dollars from a company like Verizon to announce next season’s schedules for every NFL team.
Fans like me clamor for the NFL year round, and tuned in last night to watch the record three-hour coverage provided by the NFL Network. This morning, well—let me be honest, it was actually last night—I felt a little foolish when I thought about the notion of the whole schedule release show, and what it has now become. I also happen to be a diehard fan of the NHL and missed an incredible playoff comeback by the Florida Panthers because I just could not turn off the 2012 Schedule Release Show Presented by Verizon.
The NFL has a way of making us fans look foolish at times, and they do so in an unapologetic manner. There is the $300 Sunday Ticket, the $99 Red Zone Channel, as well as PSL’s and season tickets to pay for. All of which I have no problem spending to catch a Ravens game. Buyer’s remorse, not one bit, but to be honest, it makes me laugh when today, I open the papers or turn on the computer and every sports web site has a breakdown of every game the team in their market will play this upcoming season.
Despite free agency, and current contract disputes, we as fans honestly believe that just because we now know what dates and networks our teams will be playing on, we also now know what our team’s record will be, and exactly how the season will turn out, thanks in part to a schedule release show. Say it aloud a few times, eventually it will sink in.
We act as if we had no idea who our teams were slated to play this season until last night, when in fact, we knew the day the 2011 regular season ended what teams would appear on the 2012 schedule. What we did not know were the dates and times, as well as which network would offer the game. Well, other than the national games, we also knew the networks didn’t we? NFC on FOX, AFC on CBS and AFC vs. NFC game in AFC stadium, FOX, CBS in NFC stadium and so forth and so on.
The schedule release date should actually be called “Annual NFL Bitching Day” because all that really happens is fans complain about the lack of respect shown to their team because they aren’t playing five times under the lights during the course of the season. You would think it is high school, and don’t think I didn’t notice that five teams that finished lower than my Ravens have more nationally-televised games next season. There, I am officially on the “complain train” when it comes to the 2012 schedule.
It is comical to read the hundreds of articles today as many of the prognosticators now think they know which two teams will be playing in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. I am a Ravens fan, and last season when the schedule was released, everyone made their predictions based on the fact that Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Le'Ron McClain were members of the Baltimore offense. All three were unexpectedly gone by September and the Ravens went 12-4 with Ricky Williams, a rookie WR and two inexperienced tight ends in their place.
The NFL schedule being released in April offers little insight into how a team will finish the season ahead. Not when parity is alive and well in the league and much is left to do in terms of rosters. Each year, for the past 14 seasons, five teams that missed the playoffs the year before made them the following year.
So how does the team with the easiest schedule do you ask? The last five teams to start the year with the so-called easiest schedules (winning percentage of opponents from year before) failed to make the playoffs that season. Granted, the Arizona Cardinals have done it three times (2011, 2010 and 2007), but so did the 2009 Bears and 2008 Patriots. The last team to appear in the Super Bowl with the “easiest schedule” to start the season was the 2006 Chicago Bears.
This season, the New York Giants (.547) are the first Super Bowl champion to start a season with the toughest schedule in the NFL, which is again based on the winning percentage of the teams from the year before. Ironically, the easiest belongs to their opponent in last year’s Super Bowl, the New England Patriots (.453). As a diehard fan of the Ravens, here is hoping that trend of missing the postseason continues.
Speaking of my Ravens, It was almost hysterical to read the instant analysis of the Ravens schedule by local writers in the Baltimore Sun last evening. I was amazed that many of them could predict, with what seemed to be a great deal of certainty, how the Ravens would finish this season. In case you do not know, when Baltimore won the AFC North last season, they were guaranteed games against the AFC’s other first-place teams from the 2011 season (Texans and Patriots). In fact, in an article from the Baltimore Sun on Jan 2, the following two paragraphs appeared,
Now that the regular season has come to an end with the Ravens winning the AFC North, their schedule for next season is all but set.
Obviously, the game days and times will be determined at a later date, but below is a look at the teams that will be on the Ravens' 16-game schedule. The Ravens will face the NFC East and the AFC West next season to go along with matchups against Houston and New England, the fellow first-place teams from the AFC East and the AFC South.
As promised in earl January, the NFL released a schedule that reflected that very statement. However, knowing so much more about the Ravens than they did on Jan. 2, here is instant analysis about the 2012 schedule from a few of the Ravens writers at the Baltimore Sun.
Really Mr. Lee, although the Bengals are up-and-coming, they didn’t exactly set the world on fire this off season and were listed by many as big losers in free agency. The Steelers are not getting any younger and face many of the same problems the Ravens do.
Chris Korman, who is a great writer and does Ravens live chat on game days had this to say, “The Browns, Redskins and Chiefs likely won't offer much resistance, but every other team on the schedule will fight for a playoff spot. It's too early to predict how the Peyton Manning era in Denver will play out (even if he's healthy), and it remains to be seen whether the Raiders franchise will stabilize without Al Davis' meddling.”
Come on Chris, weren’t people saying the Lions and 49ers wouldn’t offer much resistance last season as well. San Francisco came to M&T Bank Stadium on Thanksgiving night with two losses. This is the league of parity. One of the biggest reasons the NFL can get away with selling overpriced advertising time to Verizon and others is because of this parity. One major reason fans love the NFL so much is because no other sport can honestly say that 80 to 90 percent of the league has a chance to be a playoff team before the year starts.
You certainly cannot say that in baseball, the payroll between the haves and have nots is too large. The NHL and the NBA take over half of their teams to the playoffs, but even still, the parity does not come close to what you see in the NFL. There simply are not many teams that go from worst to first in the NHL, NBA or MLB.
Since 2002, which was the first season the NFL included eight divisions, at least one team that finished last in their division one year wound up winning their division a year later in every single season.
In order since 2002, the Panthers, Chiefs (twice, '03 and '10), Falcons, Chargers, Bears, Giants, Eagles, Saints (twice, '06 and '09), Ravens, Buccaneers, Dolphins and last season, the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos were all worst-to-first products.
Two who did hit the nail on the head in the Baltimore Sun were Matt Vensel (as always) and Jeff Zrebiec. Vensel wrote, “It’s tough to forecast how good each NFL team will be when the schedule is released in April. The draft has yet to go down, there will still be free-agency tinkering, and injuries start to come into play as soon as the pads come on at training camp.”
Vensel closed his instant analysis with this almost perfect thought, “I would love to say that the Ravens will probably be back in the playoffs in January. But football happens, so I’m going to pass on making a win-loss prediction until training camp wraps up out at The Castle.”
Zrebiec wasn’t far off in his take either, “Fretting over how difficult the Ravens' schedule could be in mid-April is a pretty pointless exercise when one training camp injury, extended holdout or botched first-round draft pick can significantly alter a team's fortunes for the 2012-13 season.”
The analysis called for a playoff prediction and when pressed at the end Zrebiec finished with this, “I wouldn't bank on another 12-4 season, but with relatively good health, a couple of offensive line additions along with a solid draft class, the Ravens will maintain their status as one of the AFC's elite teams.”
In my humble opinion, what you can gather from the Ravens schedule is this:
Baltimore’s 2012 schedule is tied for the fourth toughest in the league. Last season opponents were 134-122, which is a .523 winning percentage in 2011. Compared to the .477 percentage their 2011 opponents had compiled in 2010, and the Ravens may indeed have a tough road back to 12-4. However, when you look at travel schematics the Ravens are not in that bad of a situation.
For the first time since 2006, Baltimore will only play back-to-back road games in back-to-back weeks just once. Baltimore has a bye week between the dates in Houston and Cleveland.
In each of the past five seasons, Baltimore has had to spend at least two straight weeks on the road twice during the season. In 2008, Baltimore played three straight on the road, which was preceded by two straight games away from home two weeks beforehand. Yes, the Ravens have a stretch of games where they play five of seven on the road. However, one of those games is Washington, just 33 miles down I-95.
Make no mistake, the Ravens have a tough schedule, but they earned it by virtue of winning the AFC North. Trust me, if the Ravens had the last-place Colts (2-14) and Bills (6-10) on the schedule this season, Baltimore would not be playing four games on national TV, and Ravens fans would have more to worry about than two games with Pittsburgh in a three-week span.
With that said, the NFL did not do Baltimore any favors when they scheduled both games with the hated Steelers just three weeks apart. While the Ravens try to heal between games with the black and gold, they will have to travel out west to play the Chargers.
San Diego shellacked Baltimore, 34-19, late last season in a game the Ravens seemingly never showed up to play. Baltimore clinched a playoff berth earlier in the day thanks to losses by the Jets, Raiders and Titans but did not look ready to play in prime time that night.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh will travel to play the Browns between the two games, and while that is never an easy contest, Cleveland is only 137 miles from Heinz Field opposed to the 2,660 miles and three time zones Baltimore will travel to play the Chargers. Just saying, Steelers nation, just saying.
The Ravens will also have to face the Manning brothers in back-to-back weeks this season. They get Peyton and his new team, the Broncos first on Dec. 16, followed by Eli and the Super Bowl winning Giants on Dec. 23.
The Ravens will bookend their season with games against the Bengals. They open up on Monday night at home as part of the ESPN doubleheader opening Monday night tradition. This will be the second consecutive season the Ravens open versus a divisional rival at home. One can only hope they handle Cincinnati as effectively as they did the Steelers last Sept. 11.
The Ravens 12-4 record last season was accomplished with a couple of franchise firsts. Baltimore went 9-0 at home (including the playoffs) and undefeated in the AFC North (6-0). Prior to last season, the Ravens had never accomplished either feat. Even the most diehard purple and black fan would have to admit a repeat performance is highly unlikely.
The AFC North was the only division with three playoff teams last season and with many predicting the Bengals to improve, the division will only be tougher this season. The schedule is more favorable for the Ravens than it is for Pittsburgh this season. This is the second consecutive year the Ravens have caught a break in terms of where each team will face certain common opponents.
The Steelers always seemed to catch the breaks in past seasons, but starting last year, Baltimore seemed to host games that they traditionally seemed to play on the road. Two seasons ago, Pittsburgh hosted the 13-3 Falcons, as well as the 14-2 Patriots and the 11-5 Jets. The Ravens had to travel to play all three teams that season. The Ravens also traveled to Houston that season to battle the Texans in a tough Monday night affair.
The year before, Baltimore traveled to play the Vikings (12-4), Patriots (10-6) and the (11-5) Packers, while Pittsburgh hosted Green Bay and Minnesota, winning both games at home, while Baltimore dropped both on the road.
That trend tilted towards the Ravens last year as Baltimore hosted and won games versus the Texans and 49ers while Pittsburgh traveled to both cities and lost. This season, Pittsburgh travels to play the Broncos, Giants, Cowboys and Raiders as the Ravens will host all four teams.
This scheduling system is a predetermined scenario that can be viewed by clicking here. If you are confused, you are not alone. Just know that most professional sports schedules eventually have a way of working out to benefit all involved.
The Ravens are seeking their fifth straight trip to the playoffs this season, which is the longest active streak of any team in the NFL. Because of Ed Reed (33) and Ray Lewis, who will be 37 years young on May 15, the Ravens have already been classified as old on defense. We have been told Joe Flacco cannot win a Super Bowl even though he did not drop “the pass” or miss “the kick” in the “big game” last season. Ray Rice appears to be in the middle of what could be a prolonged contract dispute, which could cause him to miss training camp time.
Unless you are Joan Fennekohl, the Ravens traveling manager, the schedule is way down on the list of priorities for many. The only thing head coach John Harbaugh is concerned with is his teams organized team activities (OTA’s) and the NFL draft starting April 26.
The schedule release show is strictly for the fans in April. Even if it meant missing a great NHL playoff game in the process, we as fans were sucked in again last night by the NFL, and loved every minute of it. Hell, the NFL Network probably could have had a schedule release show that covered three days and almost 22 hours of television, oh wait, that is the NFL draft starting next Thursday night.
Only the NFL could give us information we already knew four months ago and turn into a three-hour event. In case you do not know the definition for “Carpe Diem,” it is Latin for seize the day. If making millions on a schedule release show by simply announcing networks, dates and times is not seizing the day than nothing is. As an NFL fan I am the perfect definition of the old American proverb, "Fooled once shame on you, fooled twice shame on me." When it comes to the NFL, it is always shame on me. I just hope Verizon was not fooled, remind me to check my cell phone bill will ya, and go Ravens.
By the way, my prediction for the Ravens is 11-5 and a trip to the Super Bowl for the purple and black. Joe Flacco will be this year’s Eli-te QB, and Baltimore will benefit, regardless of the schedule.