Baltimore Ravens: Key out-of-Division Matchups in 2012
On top of playing the Bengals and Steelers twice, the Ravens' schedule features several talented out-of-division foes that guarantee Baltimore will have a very difficult road back to the playoffs in 2012.
The schedule includes 11 Pro Bowl quarterbacks, the rival Redskins from down the Beltway and a familiar foe who has spent his career tormenting the Ravens.
Here's a look at the matchups from outside the AFC North.
Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles: Sunday, Sept. 16th
After starting the season against a talented, young Bengals team, the Ravens will travel to the city of Brotherly Love to battle Michael Vick and the Eagles. The Eagles didn't meet the "Dream Team" expectations last season, but this is without a doubt a dangerous football team.
DeSean Jackson has a new contract, Jeremy Maclin is healthy and they have one of the best running backs in the game in LeSean McCoy.
Their defense was their Achilles heal last season, but they acquired DeMeco Ryans from the Texans and drafted first-rounder Fletcher Cox to plug up the middle of their line.
I fully expect Michael Vick to have a stellar season with all the weapons at his disposal, so look for the Ravens' secondary to determine their team's fate in Week 2.
What to eat while in Philly: Grab a cheesesteak from Tony Luke's.
New England Patriots at Ravens: Sunday, Sept. 23rd
Despite outplaying them in their last two meetings, the Ravens just can't seem to defeat those pesky Patriots.
Back in January, the team held Pats quarterback Tom Brady without a passing touchdown, but Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff pulled a Ray Finkle, and Ravens fans mourned another AFC Championship loss.
Since that fateful New England evening, the Patriots have upgraded their defense in the draft and their passing game via free agency.
However, the monster known as Vince Wilfork was the real difference-maker last time around. The Ravens' offensive line better be ready to stop him on every play, or else Joe Flacco will be running for his life.
Dallas Cowboys at Ravens: Sunday, Oct. 14th
America's team seems to have playoff potential every single season, but something always seems to throw a wrench in their plans.
Tired of giving up passing yards in bunches, the Cowboys added Brandon Carr in free agency and drafted potential shutdown cornerback Morris Claiborne as part of their secondary overhaul.
If the Ravens' receivers are silenced, the team will need Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta to help go toe-to-toe with the high-octane offense from Big D.
Ravens at Houston Texans: Sunday, Oct. 21st
The Ravens have had one of the league's most heralded defenses for quite some time, and I see a ton of resemblance in the young squad the Texans have put together over the past few seasons.
Their matchup in the AFC Divisional round was lopsided since Matt Schaub was injured and Jacoby Jones couldn't catch a cold returning punts.
Along with a young defense, this Texans roster boasts an offense featuring running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson. Look for this to be a great game from start to finish and a possible preview of another playoff meeting between the two AFC heavyweights.
What to eat while in Houston: Get the brisket and jalapeno sausage from Rudy's BBQ.
Ravens at San Diego Chargers: Sunday, Nov. 25th
The Ravens return to the West Coast to play the Chargers, who defeated Baltimore 34-14 in San Diego last season. Don't the Ravens play these guys EVERY season?
Mike Tolbert is in Carolina now, so the backfield belongs to talented yet often-injured former first-rounder Ryan Mathews. He is the type of back the Ravens have trouble with.
Like Vick earlier, I fully expect Philip Rivers to rebound from an average 2011 campaign.
What cost the Ravens last season in San Diego was the lack of protection for Flacco. He was sacked five times and intercepted twice. The team is hoping youngsters Jah Reid and Kelechi Osemele are the future, but if things get bad they may need to be the present as well.
What to eat while in San Diego: Check out the Fried Chicken and Pancakes from Slater's 50/50.
Ravens at Washington Redskins: Sunday, Dec. 9th
RGIII has the daunting task of reviving the Redskins' franchise, which has been the laughingstock of the NFC East for almost a decade.
Washington brought in everyone's favorite Frenchman, Pierre Garcon, and re-signed Tim Hightower for another ride on the Shanahan running back carousel.
This is an "away" game for the Ravens, but since FedEx Field is only about 40 minutes from Baltimore, I'm sure you'll see plenty of purple and black in the crowd.
What to eat while in DC: Split a Peking Duck with a friend at Peking Gourmet.
Denver Broncos at Ravens: Sunday, Dec. 16th
No player has haunted the nightmares of Ravens fans quite like Peyton Manning. During his days in Indy, he made a living out of knocking Baltimore out of the playoffs. Now he's the signal-caller in the Mile High city in a very winnable AFC West.
Who knows how healthy Peyton is (or how healthy he'll be by December for that matter), but the thought of him returning to Baltimore while the Ravens could be fighting for a playoff spot almost makes me nauseous.
He's not surrounded by Pro Bowl talent, but he's won with less before. Maybe Santa will give Ravens fans an early Christmas present and we'll see rookie Brock Osweiler instead.
A guy can dream, right?
New York Giants at Ravens: Sunday, Dec. 23rd
The Ravens host the Manning brothers back-to-back as Eli and the world champion New York Giants come to town the following week.
Last season, Victor Cruz emerged as a top flight NFL receiver, and he creates a dangerous pair with Hakeem Nicks on the other side of the field.
I'm an Eli believer, but bring pressure on him and he's completely useless. Hopefully by this time All-Pro linebacker/Ball So Hard graduate Terrell Suggs is back on the field for the Ravens and sacking quarterbacks like groceries as per usual.