The Toughest 3-Game Stretch for the Baltimore Ravens in 2012
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A 16-game NFL season (oh, and is it ever short) means every contest is difficult, that nothing is a given and the struggle is the same whether a team is playing a winless squad or an undefeated one.
I hear that and I respect that—this is a game played by professionals. Even the worst NFL team is better than any alternative.
However, it's not hard to look at a given team's schedule and let out a low whistle when examining a particularly difficult stretch. For the Baltimore Ravens, that stretch comes in Weeks 11 through 13.
In that stretch, the Ravens twice play their most hated and dangerous rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two games are broken up by a trip to San Diego to take on the Chargers, a squad that bested Baltimore 34-14 in Week 15 of last season.
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Facing the Steelers is always an exhausting exercise, but to do so twice in three weeks is practically madness—for both squads.
This rivalry may or may not be the best in the league, but it's certainly the most brutal. Though Baltimore swept the Steelers last season, it's going to be a far more difficult feat to accomplish given the proximity of the contests.
The game between those two Steelers contests, against the Chargers, doesn't do the Ravens any favors either. First, they must travel west, which is never as easy as it seems.
Second, the Chargers are certainly not a weak team. Though the 2011 iteration wasn't as dominant as we've seen in the past.
San Diego did quite a bit of work in the offseason to mitigate those deficiencies (milquetoast defense, scattershot offense) and should return to contender form this year.
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Even that less-than-perfect Chargers team was able to get the Ravens' number last season.
This year, there are a lot of question marks surrounding Baltimore—Joe Flacco's progression, whether a No. 3 wide receiver is part of the offensive game plan and how well the defense will actually perform without Terrell Suggs on the field.
So there is a chance that another loss could come the Ravens' way when they travel to San Diego should these question marks turn into less-than-ideal answers.
If that's the case, that's certainly not the kind of momentum the Ravens want on their side as they head home to see the Steelers once again.
At that late point in the season, every team is battered and bruised, every player is dealing with an injury or nagging pain of varying severity and playoff berths are on the line. Two games against the Steelers in a three-week period just sounds, well, painful.
Two physical battles serving as bookends for a contest against a formidable west coast foe? Certainly, Weeks 11 through 13 will be the most difficult stretch for the Ravens this year.
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