The 2016 season was a roller-coaster ride for Baltimore Ravens fans.
The team started the season 3-0, and life was good. Four losses later, the team was heading into its bye week with the season slowly slipping away. But the Ravens came back in style, winning four of their next five games and revitalizing the team's playoff hopes. But in one final and fateful twist, the team dropped three of four down the stretch and missed the postseason.
After going 5-11 in 2015, expectations weren't necessarily high for the Ravens last year. But a strong defense—seventh in yards allowed per game, ninth in points allowed—a decent passing attack and the foot of Justin Tucker (38-of-39 on field-goal attempts) kept the Ravens competitive.
This offseason, the Ravens retained defensive tackle Brandon Williams and signed safety Tony Jefferson, corner Brandon Carr and running back Danny Woodhead. That coincided with the release of Elvis Dumervil and trades that improved the Ravens' draft position at the expense of shipping out center Jeremy Zuttah and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.
The Ravens have a new look this year, but there is reason for optimism in Baltimore. Yes, the team still has holes on the offensive line and at cornerback, and Baltimore could use another dynamic wide receiver. The pass rush needs to be improved as well.
Then again, as we've seen in the past, if you reach the playoffs, Joe Flacco can do special things.
This is a big season for the Ravens and head coach John Harbaugh, now heading into his 10th season. If the Ravens miss the postseason for a third straight year, it's hard to imagine Harbaugh won't at least find himself on the hot seat. A lot is at stake for the Ravens in 2017.
Let's take a look at what the Ravens will be facing on the path to a potential playoff berth this season.
|Baltimore Ravens' 2017 Schedule|
|1||Sept. 10||1 p.m. ET||@ Bengals||CBS|
|2||Sept. 17||1 p.m. ET||vs. Browns||CBS|
|3||Sept. 24||9:30 a.m. ET||@ Jaguars||N/A|
|4||Oct. 1||1 p.m. ET||vs. Steelers||CBS|
|5||Oct. 8||4:05 p.m. ET||@ Raiders||CBS|
|6||Oct. 15||1 p.m. ET||vs. Bears||Fox|
|7||Oct. 22||1 p.m. ET||@ Vikings||CBS|
|8||Oct. 26||8:25 p.m. ET||vs. Dolphins||CBS, NFL Network, Amazon|
|9||Nov. 5||1 p.m. ET||@ Titans||CBS|
|11||Nov. 19||1 p.m. ET||@ Packers||CBS|
|12||Nov. 27||8:30 p.m. ET||vs. Texans||ESPN|
|13||Dec. 3||1 p.m. ET||vs. Lions||Fox|
|14||Dec. 10||8:30 p.m. ET||@ Steelers||NBC|
|15||Dec. 17||1 p.m. ET||@ Browns||CBS|
|16||Dec. 23||4:30 p.m. ET||vs. Colts||NFL Network|
|17||Dec. 31||1 p.m. ET||vs. Bengals||CBS|
With all due respect to Cleveland Browns fans, if the Ravens don't finish with at least two wins in the AFC North, well, this might be a long season. Divisional matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, on the other hand, will be tests.
Baltimore's schedule, in general, is challenging but manageable. Road contests against the Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings should be battles. Home games against the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins are hardly guaranteed wins.
In total, the Ravens will play seven games this season against playoff teams from a year ago. Six games, meanwhile, will come against teams that won six or fewer games in 2016.
Let's be honest: The first two games every fan in Baltimore is probably looking for on the schedule are the contests against the Steelers. Few rivalries in the NFL are more heated, compelling and consistently well-contested.
The Ravens held a solid three-game winning streak in the series when the two teams met in Week 16 last year. And then the Steelers pulled off a 31-27 victory on an Antonio Brown touchdown catch in the game's closing seconds, clinching a playoff berth for the Steelers and eliminating the Ravens from the postseason in the process.
If you think Baltimore's remaining players and the team's fans aren't still thinking about that game and about the chance for revenge this year, well, you don't understand this rivalry. Wide receiver Mike Williams, who has played for both teams, perhaps summed it up best in November.
"It’s a battle for the division," he told CBS Baltimore. "It’s going to bring a lot of hate. Respect, but a lot of hate. No love."