Sun, 13 Jun 2021

Eisenberg: Five Takeaways From Ravens' 2021 Schedule

Baltimore Ravens
13 May 2021, 23:25 GMT+10

Baltimore Ravens

Five thoughts on the Ravens' 2021 schedule:

It's always fun and interesting when the schedule is released, but some years generate more "wow" than others - that is, matchups or parts of the schedule that reflexively cause you to say "wow" when you initially see them. For me, this year's schedule is absolutely loaded with "wow." A prime-time season opener in Las Vegas followed by a primetime home opener against the Chiefs? Wow. No games against the Browns or Steelers until after Thanksgiving? Wow. A four-game stretch against, in order, the Browns, Steelers, Browns and Packers? Wow. A four-game homestand? Wow. A season finale at home against the Steelers? Wow. There are years when the schedule is relatively routine, but boy, this isn't one.

The Ravens' home-and-away series with the Browns and Steelers could decide the AFC North, but in the biggest "wow" of all, none of those games will take place until late November. It's truly bizarre. Basically, the Ravens will track their fellow division contenders from a distance for months and then suddenly settle everything on the field with a flurry of games down the stretch. Throw in a late-December road contest against the Bengals and five of the Ravens' last seven games are against AFC North opposition. It's the polar opposite of 2020, when the Ravens completed the home portion of their division schedule by Week 8. Doing it this way is better, as it will produce more late-season drama in a competitive division. (Bonus thought: It's surely a sign of changing times in the division that the only primetime game of the four is against the Browns. That's not so surprising, though, given the insanity that unfolded on Monday Night Football when the Ravens and Browns met last December.)

Breaking Down the 2021 Schedule

Mink and Downing give their biggest takeaways, play the win-loss game and hold the annual travel draft.

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The Ravens will need to be ready to roll when the season opens. Although the Raiders haven't posted a winning record since 2016, they were in the playoff hunt a year ago and will be sky-high to open a new season with their first game in front of fans at their fantabulous new stadium - on Monday Night Football, no less. It's a big stage, and the Ravens will go right from that to an even bigger stage just six days later, after a short week of practice, when they host the Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium in a litmus-test game. It's a challenging start, but things get easier after that as, overall, seven of the Ravens' first nine opponents were non-playoff qualifiers in 2020. There's a real opportunity for the Ravens to be, say, 6-1 heading into their bye-week break in late October.

The flip side of having a relatively forgiving early-season schedule is things get a lot tougher late. Seven of the Ravens' last eight games are against teams that made the playoffs in 2020. Three of the games are against NFC opponents (Packers, Rams and Bears) and four are against the Browns and Steelers. The toughest stretch, no question, is from Nov. 28 through Dec. 19 when the Ravens face, in order, the Browns, Steelers, Browns and Packers. No breaks there. It's the opposite of a year ago. When the Ravens lost in Pittsburgh in early December, they had a 6-5 record and faced a tough climb to make the playoffs. But four of their five remaining games were against teams not in the playoff picture, and the Ravens took advantage, building a winning streak that put them in the playoffs. They'll face a much tougher late-season road in 2021, so it's probably a good idea for them to stack as many wins as possible early.

Short takes: The Ravens are playing a home game on Monday Night Football for the second straight year, so maybe we can put that talking point to bed ... They're also getting two home games on Sunday Night Football for the first time. ... In all, Baltimore has five-primetime games, which is a lot but not the least bit surprising given the national interest in watching Lamar Jackson make magic happen... It's just, plain weird to see the Ravens open the season with six straight games and nine of their first 10 against non-division opposition ... Beyond playing five games in primetime, the Ravens also play three in the late slot on Sunday afternoon. Only nine of their 17 games kick off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ... Thanks to the season now consisting of 17 games, the Ravens will play their latest finale ever, on Jan. 9. They had already won two playoff games by that date during their first Super Bowl run in 2000 ... A homestand is common in baseball, not football, but the Ravens have a long one this year. After returning home from playing the Broncos in Denver on Oct. 3, they won't leave town for six weeks. They'll play four straight home games, sandwiched around their bye, before playing the Dolphins in Miami on Nov. 11.

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