Call it the Lamar Jackson effect.
With the reigning league Most Valuable Player headlining a record-setting offense and a team considered a strong Super Bowl contender coming off a 14-2 season, the Ravens are scheduled to play five prime-time games in 2020, according to the NFL schedule released May 7.
It was considered a foregone conclusion that the record-setting Jackson and his highlight-reel playmaking would be a hot commodity for network executives, and that proved true as the Ravens were assigned five prime-time games, tied with the 2011 season for the most in franchise history.
The Ravens schedule includes a “Monday Night Football” home game against the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 and a Thanksgiving night game at Pittsburgh, one of three consecutive prime-time games for the Ravens.
After playing at Pittsburgh, the Ravens host the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, Dec. 3, and then visit Cleveland on “Monday Night Football” to close out Week 14 on Dec. 11. The Ravens also play at New England in a “Sunday Night Football” matchup on Nov. 15.
Here are five other takeaways on the Ravens’ 2020 schedule:
1. Ravens-Chiefs in Week 3 will be must-see TV.
There has certainly been a perception that “Monday Night Football” has lost its luster, supplanted in popularity by NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” but the Ravens will host one of the most highly-anticipated games of the regular season when Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs visit for “Monday Night Football” in Week 3.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has been vocal in his criticism about the Ravens dearth of home Monday night games and with good reason: Since John Harbaugh became coach, the Ravens have played on Monday Night Football 14 times — 12 of them on the road.
Jackson is 19-3 as a starter in the regular season — but 0-2 against the Chiefs. This will be the first time Jackson gets to face the Chiefs at home, though, after their expected AFC playoff showdown last year never materialized.
2. The Ravens get another shot at Derrick Henry.
The last time the Ravens saw Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, he was running over them, around them and through them en route to 195 yards — and throwing a touchdown pass — in a stunning, 28-12 Titans win in the divisional round of the playoffs that ended the Ravens’ season.
Granted, a lot of other things went wrong for the Ravens in that loss — they were stuffed twice on fourth-and-1, Seth Roberts dropped what might have become a touchdown pass, and the Ravens lost their way offensively after falling behind early.
The Ravens’ offseason objectives seemed to center around avoiding a repeat of that disastrous night. They spent money and draft capital fortifying the front seven and stressed the importance of winning the battles in the trenches. This game might be good measure of progress in that regard.
3. The Ravens-Steelers rivalry is back in prime time where it belongs.
Last year marked the first time since 2006 that neither Ravens-Steelers game was played in prime time, but the bitter AFC North rivals will be back in the national spotlight this year, playing at Heinz Field in the nightcap of the Thanksgiving tripleheader.
The names have changed throughout the years, and series villains such as Hines Ward, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs have moved on, but this rivalry still ranks among the best in the league and almost always carries playoff implications.
Two years ago, the league inexplicably scheduled both games between these teams in the first nine weeks of the season, another mistake that was not repeated. This season, the Steelers visit Baltimore in Week 7 and then the teams meet in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night.
The teams met on Thanksgiving once before — a 22-20 Ravens win in Baltimore that included Jacoby Jones famously trying to dodge Steelers coach Mike Tomlin as Jones returned a kickoff down the left sideline.
4. The final month shapes up in the Ravens’ favor.
A lot can change between how teams look in May and how they look in December, but the Ravens should like the way the final month of the season unfolds. Their final four games are against teams that finished 18-46 in 2019. They visit Cleveland (6-10) on “Monday Night Football” in Week 14, then host Jacksonville (6-10) and the New York Giants (4-12) in back-to-back weeks before ending the season at Cincinnati (2-14). They certainly are used to that; this will mark the sixth time since 2011 that the Ravens spend Week 17 in Cincinnati.
The four-game stretch before that, though, includes a stretch of three prime-time games, including road tests at New England and Pittsburgh. The Ravens also face a tough stretch right out of the gate, hosting Cleveland in the opener before back-to-back games against playoff teams Houston (away) and the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs (home).
5. This schedule could still change.
Dissecting this schedule makes one huge assumption: that the NFL season will begin on time, on schedule, despite a coronavirus pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the sports world for the past two months.
The NFL has reportedly built contingency plans into its schedule in case the season can’t begin as scheduled. In that case, games that are postponed could be pushed back to the end of the season, after Week 17, leaving the remainder of the schedule intact.
Of course, there is also a chance that the season will begin on time, with no fans in attendance.
“I really don’t see that happening,” Jackson said on a conference call last month, but Ravens and NFL officials are considering that among the possibilities The situation remains fluid, but as it did with the draft last month, the NFL with the 2020 schedule release tried to impart on its fan base some sense of normalcy.
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