The Ravens' 8-8 record last year, and the third-place schedule that comes with it for the 2014 season, could have been an advantage over division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Upon Wednesday night's release of the 2014 schedule, it appears some of those advantages have been mitigated.
Cincinnati's schedule is similar to the Ravens', save for two opponents, but the Ravens' and Steelers' schedules are essentially flipped. If the Ravens travel to a non-divisional opponent in the two crossover divisions, the AFC South and NFC South, the Steelers get them at home. That’s not good news for the Ravens.
Chief among the disparities is the Ravens' Oct. 5 trip to face Chuck Pagano’s Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are 13-3 in the last two seasons at Lucas Oil Stadium, but the Steelers get Indianapolis at home three weeks later. The Colts are 9-7 on the road since 2012, which gets the job done, but isn’t anywhere near as dominant as their home record.
Quarterback Drew Brees and company travel to Pittsburgh on Nov. 30, and the Saints are nowhere near the team they are at home when they leave New Orleans.
Where the Ravens could take advantage of their schedule is in the games against the AFC's other third-place finishers. Division champion Cincinnati will get a visit from a reloaded Denver squad and must travel to Foxboro to take on the Patriots. Pittsburgh, whose better division record secured second place, will play the Chiefs at home and the stout Jets on the road.
The Ravens will face the Dolphins, who haven’t beaten them since 2007. And while the Chargers have created issues for the Ravens in years past, the West-Coast-team-coming-East trope could help the Ravens when San Diego comes to town on Nov. 30 for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
I’m not the first to highlight how easy the Ravens schedule appears to be. The eight crossover opponents in the NFC South and AFC South give them four games against teams whose poor 2013 seasons earned them top-seven picks in next month's draft. Add in a pair of games against the Browns, who will have a new coach and are the Browns, and the schedule is full of winnable contests.
But again, those are mutual opponents for the Bengals and Steelers, who will likely be battling the Ravens for the division crown. The road dates at Indianapolis and New Orleans could be the difference between a home playoff game and a January playoff road trip for the Ravens — or dare we say it, no playoffs at all.