The Ravens open the season with back-to-back prime-time games and close the season at home against their archrival Pittsburgh Steelers, according to the official NFL schedule that was released May 12.
The Ravens begin the year at the Las Vegas Raiders on “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 13, the first of five prime-time games, and then they host Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs on “Sunday Night Football” a week later.
The Ravens will play nine games at home and eight away in the NFL’s new 17-game regular season, with three of the first four away and three of the final four at home.
And after the strange, empty-stadium feel of the pandemic-altered 2020 season, all signs suggest that fans will once again be flocking to M&T Bank Stadium this year. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott both announced May 12 that COVID restrictions would be eased in the next week.
The Ravens have the second-toughest strength of schedule based on the winning percentage (.563) of their 17 opponents last year. Collectively, those teams went 152-118-2. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers (.574, 155-115-2) have a tougher slate based on that criterion, although the schedule strength has a way of changing with time.
With the 17-game regular season, the league has reduced the preseason schedule from four games to three, and the Ravens will host the New Orleans Saints in their only home preseason game, at a date to be determined. They will also play at Carolina and at Washington in the preseason.
Here are some other key takeaways of the Ravens’ 2021 schedule:
1. An AFC North trifecta after Thanksgiving could dictate the division race.
The Ravens don’t play an AFC North opponent in the first six weeks of the season, but a stretch just after Thanksgiving will have a lot to do with clarifying the divisional playoff picture.
The Ravens host Cincinnati in Week 7 (Oct. 24) in their first division battle, but then just after Thanksgiving, they face a three-week stretch in which they host Cleveland (Nov. 28), play at Pittsburgh (Dec. 5) and then play at Cleveland (Dec. 12). They play five of their six AFC North contests in a span of seven weeks to close the season, as they travel to Cincinnati on Dec. 26 and then host Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale on Jan. 9.
Granted, those are far from the only games that matter, but that Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Cleveland three-week stretch looms as one of the most important of the season in a division that sent three teams to the postseason last year.
2. TV executives love Lamar Jackson.
Before Lamar Jackson came along, the Ravens had five prime-time games just once in their history. This year, they have five prime-time games for the second straight season, beginning with the “Monday Night Football” opener at the Las Vegas Raiders.
Team owner Steve Bisciotti and head coach John Harbaugh have publicly complained about how often the Ravens have had to hit the road for Monday night games; the season opener will be Harbaugh’s 16th “Monday Night Football” game as Ravens coach, with 13 of them on the road. However, they do get a home Monday night game a few weeks later, against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 11.
After visiting the Raiders for the opener, the Ravens come home to open the nine-game home schedule in prime time, hosting the Kansas City Chiefs on “Sunday Night Football” on Sept. 19. The Ravens also hosted the Chiefs in prime-time last year, but no fans were allowed to attend because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ravens other prime-time games will be a Thursday night game at Miami on Nov. 11 and a “Sunday Night Football” showdown with the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 28 that begins their three-week AFC North gantlet. And after the Ravens scored their epic, Jackson-sprinting-from-the-locker-room, 47-42 comeback win in Cleveland last year, that one should be must-see TV.
3. A fast start is critical.
Every team wants to open the season strong, but it might be critical for the Ravens to do so, given a schedule that looks back-loaded with tough games. Granted, schedule strength in May doesn’t always look the same by October, but of the Ravens’ final eight opponents, seven made the playoffs in 2020. The only outlier in that stretch is a road game at Cincinnati on Dec. 26.
If there’s a soft spot on the schedule, it comes from Weeks 3-7, when the Ravens face four teams that had losing records last year — the Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals. But those first two games are on the road, and the Chargers and Bengals are both considered ascending teams with a franchise quarterback in his second season.
The Ravens also have a stretch of four consecutive games at home, with the bye falling in that sequence as well, nicely placed at Week 8, before their rugged second-half AFC North stretch begins.
The added 17th game certainly didn’t do the Ravens any favors, as they will host the Los Angeles Rams, 10-6 a year ago, on Jan. 2 before the regular-season finale against the Steelers.
4. The Ravens and Steelers end the season against each other, as it should be.
The NFL schedule-makers have for some inexplicable reason paired the Ravens and the Bengals in the regular-season finale in eight of the past 11 seasons, but this year they got it right, sending the Steelers to M&T Bank Stadium for the regular-season finale on Jan. 9.
For the past two decades, this has been arguably the best rivalry in football, and television networks know it, which is why it has been played so often in prime time. This year marks just the second time in the past 15 years that neither meeting is slated for prime time.
The regular-season finale always carries uncertainty, and two years ago, after the Ravens had run roughshod over the AFC North, the Steelers came to M&T Bank Stadium in an anticlimactic regular-season finale in which the Ravens, having already secured the No. 1 seeding in the AFC, rested many starters. More often, though, these teams have been in the playoff hunt to the end, so history suggests that a matchup in the final week of the season will have significant playoff implications.
Could it be Ben Roethlisberger’s last game?
5. There’s no shortage of rivalry intrigue.
To be sure, the AFC North rivalry games are bound to deliver — with Mark Andrews going up against his good friend Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, with Patrick Queen trying to harass his former quarterback Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, and with Alejandro Villanueva potentially discussing Tik-Tok videos with the Steelers receivers in Pittsburgh. These divisional rivalry games already had plenty of juice, and will only getting better with the Browns and Bengals on the rise.
But even away from the division, there is no shortage of rivalry intrigue. In the season opener at Las Vegas, the Ravens will square off against several former teammates including receivers Willie Snead and John Brown, linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and tight end Darren Waller.
John Harbaugh once again will match wits with his longtime friend Andy Reid, who has gotten the better of him in all three regular-season meetings between the Ravens and Chiefs the past three years. In fact, Lamar Jackson has dubbed the Chiefs his “Kryptonite”; in regular-season games, Jackson is 0-3 against the Chiefs and 30-4 against everyone else.
Then there are the Rams, who come to Baltimore on Jan. 2. Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters, who was traded by the Rams to the Ravens in 2019, told former teammate Aqib Talib recently that he felt disrespected by the Rams by the trade, and Peters has been plenty vocal about equally outspoken Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The two nearly came to blows on the field and then again in a stadium tunnel when the Ravens and Rams met two years ago.
OFFICIAL RAVENS SCHEDULE
Home games in CAPS, all times Eastern
|TBD (Aug. 13-15)||NEW ORLEANS||TBA|
|TBD (Aug. 20-22)||at Carolina||TBA|
|TBD (Aug. 27-29)||at Washington||TBA|
|Mon., Sept. 13||at Las Vegas||8:15 p.m.|
|Sun., Sept. 19||KANSAS CITY||8:20 p.m.|
|Sun., Sept. 26||at Detroit||1:00 p.m.|
|Sun., Oct. 3||at Denver||4:25 p.m.|
|Mon., Oct. 11||INDIANAPOLIS||8:15 p.m.|
|Sun., Oct. 17||LOS ANGELES CHARGERS||1:00 p.m.|
|Sun., Oct. 24||CINCINNATI||1:00 p.m.|
|Sun., Oct. 31||Bye|
|Sun. Nov. 7||MINNESOTA||1:00 p.m.|
|Thurs., Nov. 11||at Miami||8:20 p.m.|
|Sun., Nov. 21||at Chicago||1:00 p.m.|
|Sun., Nov. 28||CLEVELAND||8:20 p.m.|
|Sun., Dec. 5||at Pittsburgh||4:25 p.m.|
|Sun., Dec. 12||at Cleveland||1:00 p.m.|
|Sun., Dec. 19||GREEN BAY||1:00 p.m.|
|Sun., Dec. 26||at Cincinnati||1:00 p.m.|
|Sun., Jan. 2||LOS ANGELES RAMS||4:25 p.m.|
|Sun., Jan. 9||PITTSBURGH||1:00 p.m.|
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox