On a serious note, most coaches, players, and fans would be very content with a 12-4 record, right? One formula of achieving said record is to sweep your home games, and split your away games. Looking at the Ravens’ schedule, are there home games that challenge that formula? How about away games? What games, at this moment in time, look to be winnable? Again, much can, and will, change. There are always a handful of teams that look awful on paper (or were awful the year before) that make a remarkable turnaround. It is exactly what the NFL wants—hope in the form of parity.
Another obstacle that will challenge the Ravens is the fact that they have a brutal stretch of games in the second quarter of the season. The month of October offers four games out of five that are on the road. And what makes this even more daunting is the fact that the last two games of the stretch are against the Bengals and the Steelers—road divisional games are among the toughest.
Finally, John Eisenberg presented a good case that the early slate of favorable divisional games—first three games are vs. Bengals, vs. Steelers, and at Browns—may be offset by whatever happens to Ray Rice and his possible league-sanctioned suspension. I suspect that the Ravens are fully aware of the different Rice-scenarios, and they are planning accordingly—by upgrading through the draft and/or surveying the scene of other teams’ possible upcoming cuts.
Winnable Home Games
Cincinnati: Home opener? This is winnable, divisional game or not. Furthermore, it is my belief that the Bengals take a step-back this year. The postseason travails that Andy Dalton has endured will carry over to the regular season, the secondary is old, and they play a first place schedule.
Carolina: The Steve Smith Revenge Blood and Guts Game. Between that factor, and the fact that the Panthers have virtually no offensive weapons, I count this as a Ravens win.
Tennessee: Jake Locker or a rookie quarterback will be what the Titans trot out at M&T Bank Stadium. Not much of a worry. Will Bernard Pollard and John Harbaugh have a warm reunion?
Jacksonville: This team is being built the correct way, but it still needs an infusion of talent and a quarterback.
Cleveland: Many people are assuming that the Browns are simply going to be just the Browns, but I disagree. This team may be a force depending on what they do in the draft, and I see this team addressing its key needs—quarterback, wide receiver to compliment Josh Gordon, a cornerback to compliment Joe Haden, and possibly a tackle to help an already strong offensive line. However, this game is the last of season and the young Browns may hit the proverbial rookie-wall.
Challenging Home Games
Pittsburgh: Always a close game. Ten of the last 13 games have been decided by three points or less.
Atlanta: This may be another team that has a bounce-back year. They have talent on the current roster, and they should get more talent through this year’s draft and their high slots of picks—as long as general manager Thomas Dimitroff doesn't mortgage the future by trading up for Jadeveon Clowney.
San Diego: The Chargers had a great year last year. Coach Mike McCoy brought balance and stability to the team, and he has brought back quarterback Philip Rivers from the dead. This is always a tough matchup for the Ravens.
Probable Losses on the Road
Indianapolis: I am not a huge proponent of Andrew Luck and the Colts; not yet, anyway. They have had some unexpected early success, but some of their wins have been flukes. Last year, they fell behind in too many games. And while they made a remarkable comeback, they will not be able to sustain that level of success. So, who are the Colts? The team that gets blown out for three quarters or the team that turns it on at the right moment in time? Either way, this will be a tough test for the Ravens. I expect that the Colts will find another weapon or two for Luck. Will the Ravens offense be clicking by October? I think it will, and this could very well be a shoot-out.
New Orleans: Yes, it will be a feel good moment for the Ravens to return to the Superdome, site of their recent Super Bowl win. However, they will have already played a pre-season game there, and the site is not as important as the opponent. Plain and simple, the Saints are tough at home. This will be a tougher game than usual—a nationally televised game will have the home crowd extra frothy. The Ravens outstanding week-after-the-bye-week record will be put to the test.
Cincinnati: Though I said what I said about the Bengals, the divisional adage come into play. Recently, the Bengals have been very good at home. Plus, this game comes towards the end of that brutal four out of five games on the road.
Pittsburgh: The Steelers on a Sunday night? That usually doesn’t bode well. Maybe Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith strike again?
Winnable Road Games
Cleveland: The Browns are going to a tough out this season, but I think the Ravens catch them at good point in their schedule. After playing the Steelers on a Thursday night, the Ravens will have 10 days to prepare for the Browns. That gives them the edge they will need for this game. Regardless, it will be a dogfight in the Dawg Pound.
Tampa Bay: While Lovie Smith may help turn this team around, the Buccaneers are not ready for primetime. The only thing that makes me pause here is that this game falls in that difficult road stretch in October. However, I think the Ravens can steal this one on the road.
Miami: The offensive line will need to be greatly overhauled. The defense is still a work-in-progress. Ryan Tannehill is still a work-in-progress. The Ravens may be peaking at this point of the season, and the Dolphins could be cementing Joe Philbin’s future as the former Dolphins’ head coach.
Houston: The prevailing attitude is that the Texans have a lot of talent and they just need to find their quarterback. Well, that is a big piece to be missing, and I am not sure if the Texans find that quarterback in this year’s draft. December should be a nice month for the Ravens.
All things considered, as we sit here in May, the Ravens 2014 schedule looks pretty good. Sure, the month of October will present challenges, but what team’s schedule doesn't provide challenges? The Ravens have a chance—again, as we merely analyze things on paper in May—to get hot at the end of the season in December. That could be a major factor in determining if they return to the playoffs in 2014.