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Regardless of what the numbers say, the Ravens' 2018 schedule figures to be difficult

Earlier this week, CBS Sports published a story ranking the strength of schedule for every NFL team in 2018. Ravens fans already lamenting the team’s tough road probably will be surprised where the team ranks.

Based on their 2018 opponents’ winning percentage from this past season (.488), the Ravens’ schedule ranks the 21st most difficult.

The teams with the NFL’s most difficult 2018 schedules are the Green Bay Packers (.539 opponent winning percentage), Detroit Lions (.535), New Orleans Saints (.535) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (.531). The Cleveland Browns (.523) have the AFC’s toughest schedule.

Other select AFC teams and their schedule rank: Kansas City Chiefs, 19th; New England Patriots, tied for 22nd; Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars, tied for 25th; and Cincinnati Bengals, 29th.

What does this all mean?

Well, not a whole lot. It’s always fun to look at the rankings, but it’s been proved over and over again that a team’s performance the previous season doesn’t always portend what the team will do the next year. Sharp Football Analysis had an interesting read on this topic earlier this week. It was summed up by this opening line of the piece: “Measuring future strength of schedule by incorporating prior year win rate is lazy, inaccurate and inefficient.”

Case in point: If you did this exercise last season, matchups with the Philadelphia Eagles (7-9 in 2016), Saints (7-9), Los Angeles Rams (4-12) and Jaguars (3-13) were not viewed as difficult. Then all four teams won their respective divisions.

Meanwhile, the New York Giants (11-5 in 2016), Miami Dolphins (10-6), Oakland Raiders (12-4) and Buccaneers (9-7) were viewed as imposing opponents heading into 2017. None of those teams would win more than six games.

Aside from a handful of perennial contenders, teams fluctuate year to year. There are just so many factors that make the difference between winning and losing each week, and none are more impactful than injuries, which are hard to predict.

As for the Ravens, the winning percentage of their 2018 opponents is obviously heavily affected by the Browns going 0-16 last season. The Browns have to be better in 2018, don’t they?

In 2018, the Ravens will play the Bengals, Browns, Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Buccaneers, Raiders and Saints at home. On the road, they’ll face the Bengals, Browns, Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans.

The Steelers, Bills, Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Chiefs and Titans all went to the playoffs this past season. The Raiders underachieved, but they should be much improved under Jon Gruden. If the Broncos land an established quarterback, such as Kirk Cousins, they’ll become an expected playoff contender given the strength of their defense. The Chargers won six of their final seven games in 2017 and should have increased expectations.

Don’t let the numbers fool you. By just about every other measure aside from 2017 winning percentage, the Ravens figure to be playing a rigorous schedule in 2018.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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