By Alan Zlotorzynski: On Thursday night, the NFL announced the schedule for the 2013 season and aside from the opening night debacle for the Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens have been saddled with a very manageable schedule.
In terms of strength, the Ravens own the fifth toughest in the league, but a deeper look inside shows the Ravens will have an opportunity to play the tough part in the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium where head coach John Harbaugh and his newly minted Super Bowl MVP signal caller are almost unbeatable.
Since taking over in 2008, Harbs and Joe Flacco are a cool 33-7 at home and 21-19 on the road. Aside from the usual cast of AFC North characters, the Steelers, Bengals and Browns, the Ravens will host the Texans, Packers, Jets, Vikings and Patriots.
According to last season’s finish, these teams posted a combined record of 72-54 (.578), which has the Ravens playing the fourth toughest home schedule. Where this gets easier, or at least if you believe strength of schedule is a solid stat in April, is when the Champs take to the road.
Away from the Charm city, the Ravens, of course will make return trips to The Burgh, Cincy and Cleveland. They will also visit Denver, Buffalo, Miami, Chicago and Detroit. These teams did not do as well as the ones visiting Baltimore. The combined record of the Ravens scheduled road teams was 63-65 (.492).
This is tricky to predict when you consider the following factors. First, the Browns made a significant impact in the free agent market this offseason and have former Ravens pass rusher and leading sacker from last season, Paul Kruger. What may offset a split with Browns and possibly the Bengals is the fact that the Steelers did not get better, not yet at least. In fact, losing Mike Wallace and many of their veteran leaders are forcing many to argue whether Pittsburgh is the worst team in the North heading into 2013.
I even heard a diehard Steeler’s fan recite that horrible word, which many stalwart franchises never seem to use but the Steelers may not be able to help—–rebuild. Don’t bet on it Ravens fans, the Steelers still return one of the best secondary’s from a defense that ranked first in the league in 2012. Losing players such as James Harrison and Mike Wallace may hurt the Steelers in the short term but it always worked out for Big Ben and company somehow. Pittsburgh has been one of the best organizations through the years when it comes to addition through subtraction.
The Dolphins figure to be improved and the entire NFC North will be tough. The Lions should be vastly improved over a 4-12 record, and it is possible that the division could send three teams to this year’s playoffs. Factor in playing a first place schedule and the schedule while manageable, is no cupcake.
Unlike last year, the Ravens do catch a few breaks this season. Their bye week is right in the middle of the season during Week 8 and twice this season, Harbaugh’s troops will have 10 days to rest, with only one of those games, at home vs. the Steelers on Thanksgiving night, coming on four days’ rest.
The Ravens longest road trip is only two games and that happens twice in the first eight weeks of the season. They travel to play Buffalo and Miami in weeks four and five and then the travel to Pittsburgh and Cleveland in weeks seven and nine but the bye week prevents the Ravens from feeling like they have been gone two weeks in a row. They play four of their final six games at home but play the Lions on a Monday night in the Motor City before returning home to play the Patriots on a Sunday night the following week, in late December.
In all, I think there are far more pros than cons to this year’s schedule. You will not find a cross-country trip to San Diego sandwiched between two games vs. the Steelers. You will also not see the Ravens play four games in 17-days to kick off the season, thank God!
With that in mind, here are my predictions for the Baltimore Ravens 2013 schedule, game-by-game:
Week 1- Ravens at Denver Broncos Thursday Sept 5 (8:30 NBC)
This game will forever be known as Bird-gate, in that only one of the “Birds” in town were able to open their gates in Baltimore for a game on this day. As we all know, those Birds wear orange with their black. However, the game is in Denver and that is OK Ravens fans, even if the Ravens come home to face Cleveland 0-1.
Which they will by the way——be 0-1 to start the season. While it is true that the “fax” surrounding new Ravens pass rusher Elvis Dumervil’s arrival in Baltimore may never be known, he will have revenge on his mind as he tries to sack Peyton Manning. Nevertheless, the Ravens won there in January and Dumervil is one of 22 for the Ravens that will take the field that night. Denver will have all 22 players looking to serve up a little revenge of their own and when you factor in opening night in the NFL and many new players on defense for the Champs, this may start well but may look ugly by night’s end.
Denver 34 Baltimore 17
Ravens Record (0-1)
One more thing about this game. The Ravens had to travel to play the Broncos at some point this season. This was the best possible choice for them to do so. Week 1 games are always full of mistakes and almost never crisp, which could work in Baltimore’s favor. That is why it may look good early but get ugly late. At least the Ravens will have a min-bye with 10-days off until they host the Cleveland Browns at the big ATM in their home opener.
Week 2 Sept.15 Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns (1:00 p.m. CBS)
Joe Flacco’s record in Week 1 since taking over the starting job in 2008 is 5-0. He has averaged 241 yards with eight touchdowns and tossed only two interceptions with an average QB rating of 106.2. Week 2 has been an entirely different story. Flacco has been horrible and that is putting it mildly. He is 2-3 and has averaged 180 passing yards with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. To put that into perspective, Flacco has thrown almost 18-percent of his career interceptions in Week 2.
The Jekyll and Hyde show is in reverse this season. The Champs celebrate their championship flag rising with the Ravens crazies by blasting the Brownies, as Flacco shows why he was worth at least a portion of his $126 million contract.
Ravens 41 Browns 21
Ravens Record (1-1)
Week 3 Sept. 22 Ravens vs. Houston Texans (1:00 p.m. CBS)
This is going to be the first of few homecomings this season for the Ravens as Ed Reed comes home to face his old team. The fans of Baltimore will love and gush all over No.20 but Flacco and Company have the capability to expose their former teammate. Unless Reed found a fountain of youth, Flacco is one of the best at doing what Reed can no longer defend with consistency, the deep ball.
The Texans had a league-high nine Pro Bowlers and skill position players at the top of several statistical categories. Wide receiver Andre Johnson finished second in the NFL with 1,598 receiving yards and Running back Arian Foster was sixth in the NFL with 1,424 rushing yards and led the league with 15 rushing TDs. In addition, defensive end J.J. Watt led the NFL with 20.5 sacks and was named Defensive Player of the Year.
Still yet, the Texans are missing that “something” they need to get over the hump. I can assure you it is not a 35-year old safety (born Sept 11) with constant neck and shoulder problems. Houston delivered quite a blow to a down and out Ravens team depleted with defensive injuries in Week 7 last year. The Texans thumped Reeds old team by 30 points in Houston. The Ravens have not forgotten and John Harbaugh is sure to remind them all week leading up to the game.
With less than a minute to play and the game tied, Flacco hits Torrey Smith with a long completion as he catches Ed Reed creeping, sound familiar——-Justin Tucker makes Reed pay even more and while the Ravens do not win by 30, they will win the game. Reed flies back to Houston on Owner Bob McNair’s private jet—end of story.
Ravens 27 Houston Texans 24
Ravens Record (2-1)
Week 4 Sept. 29 Ravens at Buffalo Bills (1:00 p.m. CBS)
It is entirely possible that Buffalo is playing with a rookie quarterback by this point in the season. I can see no reason why the Ravens do not finish the first quarter of the season with a win in Buffalo and record of 3-1. This will be the Ravens and Bills sixth meeting with Buffalo winning the only meeting between the two teams in Western NY.
Rian Lindell kicked four field goals and Marshawn Lynch scored on a one-yard TD run to spoil Willis McGahee’s warm homecoming, 19-14 back in Week 7 of the 2007 season. This loss would mark the beginning of the end in the Brian Billick era. Including this loss, the Ravens would lose nine straight games, winning just once more all season. Billick was fired shortly after the season ended, as Baltimore finished 5-11. No worries on this day, as Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce steal the show against a defense that was 31st vs. the run last season.
Ravens 30 Buffalo Bills 10
Ravens Record (3-1)
Week 5 Oct. 6 Ravens at Miami Dolphins (1:00 p.m. CBS)
Homecoming, or at least playing against your original team part two for the Ravens, as they take their talents to South Beach to play Dannell Ellerbe and the Miami Dolphins. I do not buy for one second that the Ravens were caught off guard in losing Ellerbe. If he were as great as his contract is paying him, then he would have been a starter two years ago in Baltimore. Do not misunderstand me, I like Ellerbe I agree with Trevor Pryce when he said Ray Lewis should give his Super Bowl check to Ellerbe for his play in the big game compared to Lewis’, who looked beat on just about every snap. However, that check was for $88,000 (loser got half of that amount) and not $437,500, which is what Ellerbe will be getting from Miami after every game for signing a five-year $35 million deal. The Ravens will need to be careful here. The Dolphins are an improving team and could land in the playoffs if a few things go right for head coach Joe Philbin this season. Do not forget they have former Steelers receiver, the speedy Mike Wallace, who gave the Ravens, fits at times.
Baltimore has had mixed success in south Florida. They are 2-0 there in the playoffs winning 27-9 in 2009 and 20-3 in 2002. However, the Ravens have just one regular season win in Miami in five tries. Their most notable loss occurred there during the nine game losing streak in 2007. Led by head coach Cam Cameron—that’s right—the former Ravens offensive coordinator, the Dolphins entered the Week. 15 contest winless on the season (0-13). However, the game went into overtime after Billick’s team surrendered a 10-point halftime lead and lost in the extra session. Matt Stover missed a 26-yard field goal to win the game and on the ensuing drive, the Dolphins would earn their first—and only win of the 2007 season. They did so on the arm of legendary Dolphins QB Cleo Lemon. He hit Greg Camarillo with a quick slant across the middle and Camarillo out ran Ed Reed to end zone for a 64-yard touchdown and the win. The Dolphins celebrated as if they won the Super Bowl and the banging heard on the Ravens sideline was the final nails being hammered in to Brian Billick’s coaching coffin in Baltimore.
Luckily, for the Ravens Cleo Lemon has been out of the league since 2008, as that win represented 33.3 percent of his career total. Instead it’s Ryan Tannehill and I like the Ravens chances here considering the Dolphins are coming off a short week after having played the Saints on Monday Night Football. It will be another close one but I like Flacco to outduel Tannehill for the “W”.
Ravens 24 Miami Dolphins 20
Ravens Record (4-1)
Week 6 Oct. 13 Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers (1:00 p.m. FOX)
Let’s not kid ourselves here; Aaron Rodgers comes to town with a little chip on his shoulder, intent on outperforming Joe Cool in his own backyard. I can see the FOX promos now, Rodgers and the Packers visit M&T Bank Stadium to take on Joe Flacco and the Super Bowl Champs.
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman made their first appearance at M&T last December when the Ravens opened up a can on the Giants. FOX’s top team will be back for this one and it should be a good one.
The Packers will need to get a running game during the rest of this offseason to help Rodgers but I see a potential second loss for the Ravens here. They will not go 15-1 this season and losing to the Packers is no crime. Three of the Ravens four meetings have taken place at Lambeau Field, with the last one in December of 2009. The Ravens lost that contest, 27-14. Aaron Rodgers threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns, while Flacco was not at his sophomore best. Joe Cool threw for 137-yards and three interceptions. While I expect Flacco to be much better this time, this will be a shootout and Rodgers will once again prevail.
Green Bay Packers 37 Ravens 31
Ravens Record (4-2)
Week 7 Oct 20. Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m. CBS)
The Ravens and Steelers get this rivalry back to normal in this one and what I mean by normal is splitting the regular season games with the home team winning. You may not like losing two in a row but it comes on the cusp of the bye week.
Yes, the Steelers are not as talented as they were two years ago but they are the Steelers and this is one of the best rivalries in the game and records are tossed out the windows in these games. You know how we keep referring back to 2007 in this piece, the 4-11 Ravens beat the 10-5 Steelers to end their nine game slide that season. The talk shows in Baltimore will be blowing up on Monday as the Ravens enter the bye week at only 4-3. Flacco will be not worth the money, it was the players in the October 2012 near mutiny that were right, and Harbaugh is losing his mind.
It will be all of the usual ready to jump off the ledge stuff that Ravens fans spew when the hometown boys lose a few in a row.
The bottom line is, the Ravens used the first seven games to get their defense in sync and their offense on the same page, as OC Jim Caldwell is in his first full season calling plays. Three points have decided eight of the previous 10 regular season games between these two teams, and four points decided another; this one will be no different.
Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Ravens 14
Ravens Record (4-3)
Week 9 Ravens at Cleveland Browns
The Ravens return from the bye week where head coach John Harbaugh is 5-0 during his stay in Baltimore. The Ravens beat the Browns 25-15 following the bye week last season. The win helped settle down a fan base that wasn’t happy after the Ravens entered the off-week following a 30-point loss to the Texans. A win here in Cleveland could very-well do the same thing after I have them losing two in a row before the bye this upcoming season.
If the Browns draft a quarterback early in the 2013 NFL Draft, as new team owner Jimmy “Flying J” Haslem wants them to, it is likely the Ravens could be facing their second rookie of the season in Week 9. Current Browns QB and card-carrying AARP member, (just kidding) Brandon Weeden is not the short-term answer and at 30 years old by the time this game kicks off, the future either. The Ravens enter the 2013 season having won 10 in a row and based on my prediction from Week 2, make it 11 heading into this contest. Following a Ravens win in this contest, we can call it a “Dirty Dozen”. Besides, with Pro Bowl kicker Phil Dawson gone, who is going to score the points against the Ravens?
Ravens 30 Cleveland Browns 14
Ravens record after the first half of the season, 5-3
Log onto Fanspeak.com on Tuesday to read the Ravens second half of the season schedule breakdown. Will Flacco and company finish better than 10-6 or will they even get to 10 wins. I have the answers. You can also check out my Ravens draft special on Wednesday when I tell you why Ozzie Newsome may actually do something he rarely does on draft day to get his man. Trade up! Be sure to check back to see who are the possible trade partners are for the Wizzard.