It won't take very long into the 2014 season for the Ravens to see where they stand in the AFC North.
The NFL released the regular-season schedule Wednesday and it will begin for the Ravens with three divisional games, including two in a five-day span. The Ravens will open up the 2014 campaign with back-to-back home games against the reigning AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7 and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11. They'll finish that divisional stretch with a road game against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 21.
It marks the second time in head coach John Harbaugh's seven seasons where the Ravens will play their AFC North counterparts over the first three weeks of the season.
The first Steelers' matchup will be televised on CBS and is one of three games initially set for primetime. Their visit to Heinz Field to finish the season series with Pittsburgh is scheduled for Sunday night, Nov.2 on NBC and they're also slated to face the New Orleans Saints on Nov.24 on ESPN in their only Monday Night Football appearance. The Ravens will also play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the site of their Super Bowl XLVII triumph, in the preseason.
Flex scheduling can begin as early as Week 5 this season – it didn't start until Week 11 in past years – and the league also now has the ability to "cross-flex" games between CBS and FOX networks. That could affect how many prime-time games the Ravens will play and various kickoff times. As things currently stand, 13 of the Ravens' 16 regular-season games are scheduled to kickoff at 1 p.m., though that could change due to flex scheduling.
However, there are several certainties. The Ravens will get a late Week 11 bye week ahead of the final third of their regular season. That will leave them with a full 14 days between their Nov. 9 home game against the Tennessee Titans and their Nov.24 road matchup with the Saints.
Because it’s in Week 4, the Ravens’ Sept. 28 home game against the Carolina Panthers, which will feature wide receiver Steve Smith facing the organization that he played with for the first 13 seasons of his career, cannot be flexed and will be a 1 p.m. game.
The Ravens also know that after Week 9 of the season, they’ll have only one division game left: the regular-season finale on Dec.28 against the Browns.
The Ravens finished 8-8 last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and in Harbaugh's six-season tenure. On paper, they’ll head into the season with one of the weaker schedules in the NFL. They play only six games against teams that made the playoffs last season and the .461 winning percentage last year for their 2014 opponents ranks 28th in the NFL.
Their final four opponents – the Miami Dolphins (Dec. 7), the Jacksonville Jaguars (Dec. 14), the Houston Texans (Dec. 21) and the Browns – went a combined 18-46 last season.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun