SEVERAL GOOD GUESSES IN '13; FOUR SOUTHERN TRIPS THIS YEAR
Usually, cold weather and snow make Baltimore sports fans start thinking about lacrosse or baseball.
But when one looks at the itinerary of opponents the Ravens will be facing in 2014 -- especially on the road -- a different mental picture takes shape.
With the team facing the AFC South and NFC South as its out-of-division rotation, that means that at least four and as many as five games could be taking place either indoors or in warm-weather locales.
Even if the scheduled road game against the Houston Texans is held with the Reliant Stadium roof open, it's a good bet that weather conditions won't be as adverse for that game, because it will be held in a southern climate.
In 2013, temperamental fall weather resulted in several Ravens games taking place in either rainy or windy conditions, including two that were delayed.
The kickoff time for the season-opening game in Denver was pushed back 34 minutes because of lightning concerns, and a November game in Chicago was halted during the first half because of a tornado warning.
The unusual patterns continued with the Dec. 8 home game against the Minnesota Vikings, a contest that took place amid the first recorded accumulated snow during any game in Ravens history, home or away.
With the Baltimore weather forecasts harder to predict than in most other cities around the country, there's no telling what kinds of conditions will greet the Ravens and their opponents in 2014.
But with the 2014 schedule preliminarily rated as the league's fifth easiest, the team -- provided it makes the necessary roster adjustments -- could return to its accustomed place in the sun, both figuratively and literally.
Ravens Report now makes its annual attempt to guess what the schedule sequence could look like; the venues and opponents are known, but game dates and times won't be released until approximately mid-April.
This experiment has met with occasional success in the past.
Last year, I was exactly right picking the Pittsburgh road game to be during Week Seven and the home date against the Vikings to be held during Week 14. Plus, I was one week off on slots for the Buffalo and Chicago trips, as well as the bye week.
Remember, the following guesses apply to Sunday afternoons only -- indicated by the dates next to the week numbers in the sequence below -- for I am making no speculative guesses as to which games are being played Sunday, Monday or Thursday nights.
The Ravens played three prime-time games in 2013, with another being moved out of the Sunday-night prime-time window. With the team's status as perennial contenders, several national-TV games could again be in the offing.
Also, when it comes to the season's first four weeks, I am again applying my guesses to Sundays only, based on the Orioles' already-determined home and away itinerary. Beyond Week Four, I made my picks as if the Orioles would not be playing home postseason games in October, although that is subject to change.
Bearing all of the above in mind, what could the Ravens' 2014 schedule sequence look like when it kicks off on or about Sept. 7? Let's take a look.
WEEK ONE (SEPT. 7): PITTSBURGH
Since John Harbaugh took over as the Ravens' coach in 2008, the Ravens have played their Week One game at home four times; they may do so again in 2014, because the Orioles will be playing at Tampa Bay that weekend. The Ravens have played an AFC North foe on three of those four occasions: the Cincinnati Bengals twice and the Pittsburgh Steelers once. The last time Pittsburgh occupied this space on the schedule was in 2011, when the Ravens responded with a 35-7 win.
WEEK TWO (SEPT. 14): AT HOUSTON
The Ravens have been to Houston four times, with none of those games having taken place before Oct. 21. This should be different for two reasons: first, the Orioles will be at home against the New York Yankees, and second, the Texans played in Baltimore during Week Three last year, and a return visit during the same portion of the schedule would not be a shock. The Texans were 2-14 last year, and they might not have their ship righted this early.
WEEK THREE (SEPT. 21): AT TAMPA BAY
If this predicted date comes out correct, many Ravens fans who enjoy making special bus or plane trips will likely exclaim, "What a waste!" It's a given that most fans would like to see this game set for later during the season, for weather-related reasons. But league officials are trying their best to get many of the AFC-NFC interconference battles out of the way early to set up more conference and division games for the season's homestretch.
WEEK FOUR (SEPT. 28): CLEVELAND
Before last season, the Ravens had played two division games in September during four of the previous six years. I don't think the NFL schedule makers will make the Ravens wait until October to play a second intradivisional game, as they did last year. The Ravens have played Cleveland in September six of the last eight years, and this date, when the Orioles will close their 2014 regular season in Toronto, looks like a good spot for the Browns' annual visit.
WEEK FIVE (OCT. 5): AT INDIANAPOLIS
During 10 of the last 11 seasons, the Ravens' first October game has been against an opponent from outside the division, so we'll call the Indianapolis visit here. The team from the Colts' old home has been to its current home four times, with three of those games having been played in October. It's still hard to believe the Colts will be playing their 31st season in the Hoosier State, matching their 1953-83 run in Baltimore.
WEEK SIX (OCT. 12): CAROLINA
Not counting numerous preseason meetings, the Panthers have been to Baltimore once before, and that game took place in mid-October 2006. Then, as now, the Panthers were one of the NFC's best teams, and they and the Ravens played a 23-21 thriller, which the visitors won. This should not only be a marquee game for Fox -- if it's not in primetime, that is -- but a good look at where the Ravens stand against an elite team.
WEEK SEVEN (OCT. 19): JACKSONVILLE
Many Ravens fans still remember the heated AFC Central battles between the Ravens and teams such as the Jaguars and Tennessee Titans. Both of those clubs will visit M&T Bank Stadium in 2014, and I am putting this game in this spot because five of the Ravens' eight home games last year were played during the season's second half, including three in a row. That hadn't happened in 10 years, and I don't expect it to again this year.
WEEK EIGHT (OCT. 26): AT CLEVELAND
On four occasions since 2006, the Ravens-Browns intradivisional series has been concluded before December, and with the Browns in yet another state of disrepair, the Ravens' two games against them hold little marquee value. Even with the league trying to promote competitive division races, this is one of the few pairings that league executives would like to see end in September, if at all possible.
WEEK NINE (NOV. 2): BYE
To have a true midseason bye after half the games have been played is probably unlikely. In 2013, for the third time during a four-year span, the Ravens' off week came after seven games. Despite being close at times, the Ravens have not yet had a bye at the exact midway point of the season.
WEEK 10 (NOV. 9): AT NEW ORLEANS
In 2013, the Ravens not only had road games on either side of the bye for a second straight year, but they were also both division games (at Pittsburgh, at Cleveland). This time around, I wouldn't be surprised to see another pair of roadies surrounding the off week, with the second a return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the Ravens played -- and won -- a game following their 2006 bye.
WEEK 11 (NOV. 16): CINCINNATI
This is the first flex-scheduling week, and no matter where this game is on the television itinerary, it should be a candidate to be moved to a nighttime start. The Bengals have shown some consistency for the first time in their franchise history, and besides, the second of the two annual games between these teams has been played in Cincinnati during five of the last six seasons.
WEEK 12 (NOV. 23): ATLANTA
The Falcons are one of those teams that are so hard to figure, it's difficult to say whether this game will generate any buzz during the week-long run-up to kickoff. Atlanta played in the 2012 NFC Championship Game at home and was leading before falling to San Francisco. In 2013, Atlanta went 4-12 and lost tight end Tony Gonzalez to retirement. At least the usual spate of comparisons between the Falcons' Matt Ryan and the Ravens' Joe Flacco, both members of the 2008 draft class, will be on display.
WEEK 13 (NOV. 30): AT CINCINNATI
Two games against a team as tough as the Bengals during a three-week span? Sure, and it's happened before. During the 2012 championship season, the Ravens' two games against the Steelers were 14 days apart, with the road team winning each game. Not only that, the Ravens and Pittsburgh met twice within a month in 2005, 2006 and 2009. Besides, the Ravens' regular season has ended in Cincinnati too often (see Week 17), and some kind of change is needed.
WEEK 14 (DEC. 7): TENNESSEE
Although there are months left before this game will be played, it could be a good showdown between a pair of running backs in the Ravens' Ray Rice and the Titans' Chris Johnson that are dealing with age and injury problems. If both are back on their games by this point of the season, it could be a delicious, old-school, run-dominated game, which might take less than three hours to play -- a plus when the weather has started to turn.
WEEK 15 (DEC. 14): AT MIAMI
It would make sense for one of the sunshine showdowns to be placed here. During five previous regular-season meetings at SunLife Stadium, the Ravens haven't played there after Dec. 1, although two January postseason meetings have taken place in Miami Gardens. The Dolphins, like the Falcons, are a team that seemed primed to do great things in 2013, but so much went so wrong. The Ravens' win at Miami last year kept them in the playoff race until December.
WEEK 16 (DEC. 21): SAN DIEGO
This would mark the Chargers' third trip to Baltimore, among the fewest by any team in the league, but longtime fans can't help but get nostalgic about the first of the previous two. In December 2000 -- following the Ravens' bye week -- San Diego and quarterback Ryan Leaf came to town and got blasted, 24-3, to seal the Ravens' first-ever postseason berth, which preceded the team's first of its two Super Bowl titles.
WEEK 17 (DEC. 28): AT PITTSBURGH
Because I've chosen a home division game to open the season -- and because the Ravens have never opened and closed the same season at home with division games -- this looks like an obvious choice. Plus, a game in this spot against Cleveland wouldn't hold the same end-of-season suspense, and one against Cincinnati would repeat a pattern that has curiously been in place for the last four years, the last three on the road.
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