Baltimore Ravens: Soft Schedule Gives Ravens an Edge in the AFC

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Baltimore Ravens: Soft Schedule Gives Ravens an Edge in the AFC
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It seems like every season we hear the Baltimore Ravens and their fans complaining about how the NFL schedule-makers have intentionally given the Ravens a harder than average schedule.

There have been a few legitimate complaints, like how the Ravens always seem to be scheduled into prime-time games in Pittsburgh. This year may be different since the schedule seems to favor the Ravens at first glance.

The Ravens start the season playing Pittsburgh in Baltimore. This game marks the first time since 2003 that the Ravens will open the season versus the Steelers. It may seem like a disadvantage to play the Steelers in the first game, but the Ravens should be favored in this game for a couple reasons.

First, the Ravens will be at home. That seems like an obvious advantage, but the Ravens do not have much success versus the Steelers over the last three seasons. In fact, the Ravens have a 1-2 record versus the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. Although that should statistically give the edge to the Steelers, the Ravens still must feel more confident playing in Baltimore versus in Pittsburgh, so playing at home is still an advantage.

Second, the Steelers do not want to see the Ravens in the first game this season. They would much rather have film on the Ravens before playing them. That’s because the Ravens have upgraded their offensive weapons through the draft and will likely be running more of a spread offense.

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The Ravens know what they will be seeing from the Steelers and are very familiar with their game plan. The Steelers know the Ravens' game as well, but the new offensive weapons should give the Ravens the edge in the first game.

Not often do teams have such an important game so early in the season, but the Steelers vs. Ravens game will have playoff implications. It’s not going to be an easy game, but the Ravens should find a way to a 1-0 record after their season opener, which they haven’t lost since 2007.

The next two games of the season are at the Titans and at the Rams. Those two teams have a combined 13-19 record in 2010. The Titans do not know who their starting quarterback will be and may be starting a rookie, Jake Locker, versus the Ravens.

The Rams cannot be underestimated. They have a good young quarterback, Sam Bradford, and an up-and-coming head coach, Steve Spagnuolo. However, the Ravens typically dominate teams with young quarterbacks and/or uncertain quarterback situations and should have no trouble progressing to 3-0 after those two games.

In Week 4, the Ravens face the Jets in Baltimore and their ex-defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan. This game should be fairly tough for the Ravens. Ryan knows the Ravens very well, and the Ravens know Ryan’s defense. There will be a lot of pride in this game, but the edge should go to the Ravens.

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The Ravens will be at home, and their offense should be able to take advantage of the Jets’ defense much like they did last season. It will be a tough, physical game, but the Ravens should progress to 4-0.

In Week 6, the Ravens play the Texans in Baltimore. The Ravens will be coming off their bye week, and that will give them rest after the physical game versus the Jets. Last season’s game versus the Texans was very close and not a good memory for many Ravens’ fans.

Although the Ravens won the game in overtime, they gave up a big lead to the Texans in a second-half collapse and nearly lost the game. The Ravens dominated that game in the first half, and the game really shouldn’t have been as close as it was.

The Texans will be looking to continue their success from the second half of their last game, but that will be difficult. The Ravens know what happened in that game and will not be surprised. The Texans will fight hard, but this game probably will not be as close as most people would think. Coming off their bye week, the Ravens should handle the Texans and improve to 5-0.

The next two games are at the Jaguars and versus the Cardinals. The Jaguars had a rough 2010 season and wound up drafting Blaine Gabbert in the draft. David Garrard will likely be starting versus the Ravens and should not be overlooked. He has dangerous weapons in Mike Thomas and Marcedes Lewis but will be playing the Ravens in Baltimore.

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The Cardinals will be playing at home, but are a mess. Their defense took huge strides backwards last season, and they still are unsure who will be their starting quarterback. The Ravens should have no problem reaching 7-0 versus these two teams but cannot overlook the Jaguars because their offense can be explosive.

In Week 9, the Ravens meet the Steelers in Pittsburgh, one of the toughest stadiums in the league, in a prime-time game. The Ravens have a hard time beating the Steelers in general and have an even harder time beating them at home in prime-time.

The Steelers will not want to be swept by the Ravens and will throw everything at the Ravens. This should be one of the biggest games of the year for both teams and will be a great game to watch. However, the Ravens will probably fall to 7-1 in an extremely physical match.

The next four games are at the Seahawks, versus the Bengals, versus the 49ers and at the Browns. Each of these teams can be dangerous, but none of them had great success last season.

The Seahawks made the playoffs with a 7-9 record. The Bengals imploded, but still managed to beat the Ravens once. The 49ers had a disappointing 6-10 season after receiving offseason hype. The Browns had some success with Peyton Hillis on offense, but still only won five games.

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Each of these teams cannot be overlooked for certain reasons.

The Seahawks have a balanced team with a decent defense that flashes potential. The Bengals always seem to have the Ravens number under Marvin Lewis. The 49ers now have Jim Harbaugh, the brother of the Ravens’ John Harbaugh, as their head coach and will be playing hard for him on Thanksgiving Day. The Browns nearly beat the Ravens in their first meeting last season and played them tough in both games.

The Ravens cannot overlook these teams, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to reach 11-1 after those four weeks.

In Weeks 14 and 15, the Ravens play the Colts and the Chargers. These two games are likely to challenge the Ravens defensively more than any other games of the season.

Both teams have great quarterbacks in Peyton Manning, who normally torches the Ravens, and Phillip Rivers.

Both teams also have good defenses. The Colts’ defense is statistically worse than the Chargers, but the Ravens historically have a harder time with the Colts defense. 

These two games could go either way. The Ravens are playing the Colts in Baltimore, but have a better record versus the Chargers. The Ravens can win both games, and with Jimmy Smith in the secondary, it could be argued that they have a good chance.

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However, the Ravens will probably drop one game versus two good teams back-to-back and have a 12-2 record after both games.

The last two games of the season are versus division opponents. The Ravens face the Browns in Baltimore in Week 16 and the Bengals in Cincinnati in Week 17.

Facing division opponents late in the season is never easy. Both teams will probably not be playing for a playoff spot, but will still want to knock off the Ravens. The Ravens will probably have a playoff spot locked at this point and will be playing conservatively in both games.

For those reasons, the Ravens will probably lose a game to either the Browns or the Bengals even though they’re more than capable of beating both and finish the season with a 13-3 record.

Looking at it right now, the Ravens' schedule is very favorable. They only play five games versus playoff teams from last season, Pittsburgh twice, Seattle, Indianapolis and New York Jets.

Of course, the Ravens had a better record versus the tougher schedule, 12th easiest, in 2010 than the easier schedule, fifth easiest, in 2009.

The Ravens must be happy with the schedule. They face the easiest division, the NFC West, from last season, have a well placed bye week and face relatively easy competition throughout the rest of the schedule.

All teams want an easy schedule, but this is especially convenient in the extremely competitive AFC.

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