Baltimore Ravens 2012: Which Games Will Prove Most Difficult?

Phil Gentile@@iHateJJRedickContributor IJune 25, 2012

Baltimore Ravens 2012: Which Games Will Prove Most Difficult?

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    The Baltimore Ravens head into the 2012 season with a deep, talented roster and hopes of getting one step further in their quest for a Lombardi trophy.

    Unfortunately, the powers that be decided to stick the Ravens with the fourth-toughest schedule in the league, based on what their 2012 opponents did in 2011. This was to be expected after winning the AFC North, and it hasn't lowered Baltimore fans' expectations.

    There's a handful of games that Ravens Nation had circled on their calendars since the schedules were released. The outcome of these games will likely decide if Baltimore is cruising toward another AFC North title or clawing for that last wild-card spot.

New England Patriots at Ravens, Sunday, Sept. 23

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    After a heartbreaking defeat in the AFC championship six months ago, the Ravens get a rematch as the New England Patriots visit Charm City in Week 3.

    Baltimore has had Tom Brady's number is recent years, holding him to three total touchdown passes in their last three meetings.

    The Patriots were within a couple plays of a 2011 Super Bowl victory, and they have gotten considerably better in the offseason via the draft and free agency. Brandon Lloyd was brought in to solidify their receiving corp and first-round draft picks Chandler Jones (Syracuse) and Dont'a Hightower (Alabama) will help create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.

    Plus, they somehow have the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL. Thanks Commish! 

    Player to Watch: Three words: Gronk. World. Order.

Ravens at Houston Texans, Sunday, Oct. 21

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    The Texans are filled with young talent on both sides of the ball, but it's the offense that Ravens fans should be most worried about.  

    Arian Foster shredded the Ravens' defense in their AFC Wild Card matchup before the Texans gave up on the run in the second half. He's one of the most talented backs in the league and he fits perfectly in Houston's blocking scheme.

    Andre Johnson only played in seven games last season, but should be back to 100 percent and present a true test for the Ravens' talented young cornerbacks in Week 7.

    Stopping these two is the only way to beat the Texans.

    Player to Watch: QB Matt Schaub was injured during the Texans' playoff run, and he makes this offense tick.

Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 18

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    Any game against the division rival Steelers is huge, but this one has added importance. After the Ravens swept Pittsburgh in 2011, the Steel Curtain will be ready for revenge.

    Also, the Ravens will likely still be without Terrell Suggs at this point in the season.

    The Ravens have been successful lately against the Steelers by pressuring Big Ben early and often and not letting him shed would-be tacklers. Without T-Sizzle in the lineup, that might be easier said than done.

    Player to Watch: Forget Mike Wallace! Antonio Brown is the best receiver on the team.

Ravens at San Diego Chargers, Sunday, Nov. 25

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    Is it just me or does it feel like the Ravens play the Chargers in San Diego every year?

    No team in the NFL is over-hyped year after year like the Chargers. They might be inconsistent, but this is still a very dangerous team to play on the road.

    I feel like Philip Rivers will have a nice bounce-back season, despite losing Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay.

    Their first-round draft pick, Melvin Ingram, is a high motor guy that can do everything on the football field. The Chargers registered seven sacks of Joe Flacco when these two teams met last season, so protecting him will be even more of a priority.

    If the Chargers wear the powder blue jerseys, look out. Those things are deadly.

    Player to Watch: Ryan Mathews finally gets a featured role in the Chargers backfield, but can he stay healthy?

Denver Broncos at Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 16

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    No one player has destroyed the Ravens in his career quite like Peyton Manning.

    Year after year, the Ravens' front office built the roster with the belief that "defense wins championships." Then Peyton would pull into town, kick sand in our eyes, and leave us scratching our heads.

    Presumably recovered from neck surgery, Manning has landed in the Mile High City with hopes of winning the woeful AFC West and possibly another championship.

    Luckily, the Ravens might finally have the secondary to contain one of the best quarterbacks of all time. We'll find out in Week 15.

    Player to Watch: Former Colts TE Jacob Tamme is reunited with Peyton and could catch 100 balls in this offense.

New York Giants at Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 23

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    The folks at NFL headquarters decided that in lieu of giving the Ravens a Christmas gift, they would send the defending Super Bowl champs to visit Baltimore instead.

    Eli Manning is at the point in his career where he's finally playing at the level of his big brother Peyton, and he's got a star-studded receiving corp to back him up.

    The Giants have a relentless pass rush, so Michael Oher and company will need to keep these guys under wraps if they want Joe Flacco coherent for the postseason.

    All I want for Christmas is a Ravens playoff berth! And maybe Kate Upton.

    Player to Watch: At some point this season, the NFL will realize that Jason Pierre-Paul is the best pass-rusher in the game.