Each week here at the Toy Department, two Baltimore Sun staffers will engage in a segment we like to call The Conversation, where they'll swap e-mails with one another and debate something that is in the news. Today, Kevin Van Valkenburg and Rick Maese discuss the Ravens' 2009 schedule, which was released yesterday.

The Conversation: Discussing the Ravens schedule

KVV,

Whew, I feel good this morning. I'd been growing my annual NFL Schedule Beard since the Super Bowl ended, and I was finally able to shave last night, content in knowledge that there will indeed be football games beginning in September. I'm not quite sure when the release of the NFL schedule became a national holiday, but as long as Major League Baseball doesn't adopt its own prime time unveiling show -- including analysis of every team's 162 games -- I think we're OK.

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Well, I look over the Ravens schedule and one thing immediately comes to mind: AFC North championship. There's a couple of reasons for this. First, there's the Columnist Code. I'm not supposed to talk about this out loud, but most of my breed's founding fathers don't know what the Internet is anyway, so let me explain. The Columnist Code was written in 1779 by Woodicus Paige (with forward by Michaelangelo Lupica), and it clearly states that a columnist must declare the hometown team as the preseason favorite as early as possible. This is important for a couple of reasons. If the team does well, the columnist can then declare to fans "I-told-you-so," an important staple for the sportswriter. And if the team struggles, the writer can then blame the coach and players for underachieving. So you see, it's win-win.

But even if there wasn't a Columnist Code, I'd still place the bar high for the Ravens. Put simply, this is the best possible schedule; much better than the hand they've been dealt in recent years. I mean, this team was in the AFC championship game and not only will they play the league's 28th-toughest schedule, but it unfolds quite favorably. Maybe the league felt bad about the Ravens missing their bye week last season. Whatever it was, they laid a yellow-brick road of sorts to the postseason for the Ravens. Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, Toto & Co. just need to stay on the right path.

Only 151 days until Week 1,

Maese 

The Conversation: Discussing the Ravens schedule

Maese,

The fact that the NFL is now unveiling its schedule the same way that Steve Jobs rolls out the new line of Apple products every year creeps me out a bit. I think the league is tip-toeing that much closer to the day when it simply applies for tax-exempt status and declares itself a religion that we must follow and worship 365 days a year. Is there such a thing as too much NFL coverage? Our obsession with the NFL Draft is already as unhealthy as our obsession with the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons of the world. (Shouldn't we wait until the people involved actually accomplish something before we fawn over them?) I guess at least when we're talking about the schedule, we're talking about something tangible instead of the percentage of body fat a guy has, or how fast a left tackle can run the 40-yard dash.

I'm intrigued by this Columnist Code and wish to subscribe to your newsletter. Feature writers like myself are given no such handbook. Maybe Sir Gary Smith, the Bard of Athletes Broken Dreams, was of the oral tradition and simply didn't write down such guidelines. What can we say about the Ravens? Obviously everyone in Charm City immediately wanted to know when that prime time game against the Steelers would be, and I'm sure M&T will be absolutely jumping Nov. 29 when the Super Bowl champs come to town. Since you have the Columnist Code in front of you, I'm wondering if you can consult it on this matter: Doesn't it go against what the Ravens allegedly stand for knowing they lobbied the league hard so they wouldn't have to play a prime time game in Pittsburgh? I mean, from a competitive standpoint, I totally understand. And it's about time the Steelers came here for a game under the lights instead of the reverse. But if your whole rep is that you're the baddest defense on the planet -- the team that isn't afraid of anyone -- should you really let word slip out that you don't want to play certain teams in certain places?

There are things about Pittsburgh that scare me:

1. Drinking way too much, and accidentally hooking up with one of the beauties in the picture above.

2. Walking across the street, not having my head on a swivel, and getting crack-blocked by Hines Ward.

3. Having Ben "Drink Like A Champion Today" Roethlisberger steal my date.

But playing the Steelers to open the season? Actually seems like a great time to catch them fat, out-of-shape and full of Primanti Bros. sandwiches.

Even though the Ravens have the 28th toughest schedule, they'll certainly see their share of outstanding quarterbacks.

Drew Brees (KVV edit: I'm an idiot) Philip Rivers in Week 2, Tom Brady in Week 4, Peyton Manning in Week 11, Jay Culter in Week 15. That's a lot of deep passes to defend. Good thing they stocked up on cornerbacks. Good thing Chris McAlister was sent packing.

By the way, should the league just hand the Ravens victories against Cleveland and Cincinnati right now? How long before Marvin Lewis wants to come back and be Baltimore's defensive coordinator?

Wondering if Peyton Manning is already lying in bed dreaming up fake audibles,  

KVV 

The Conversation: Discussing the Ravens schedule

KVV,

Speaking of the Browns, did you see that Cleveland is playing twice in prime time this season? Did I miss the memo that said the Browns were a decent team? Cleveland hasn't had this much play in prime time since Drew Carey got canceled. I agree 100 percent with you on the Ravens wiggling their way out of an early game with the Steelers, but let's be honest, no one wants to see that game so early in the season. Sure, it's a tough game no matter what, but the context makes it special. I want my Ravens-Steelers games late in the year with the division title on the line.

From a competitive standpoint, the Ravens have to like the way this looks. The sked looks like a series of dominoes, though a couple games do stand a bit taller than the rest. It's not hard to envision a 12-win season here. They'll have a trio of winnable game before playing Week 4 at New England. (Worth noting that for some reason, the Chiefs, the Ravens' Week 1 opponent has never lost in Baltimore.) Plus, the Ravens have mostly 1 o'clock kickoffs, and with the exception of the Dec. 27 trip to Pittsburgh, they should cruise into the playoffs coasting downhill. The final month features Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago and Oakland? It'll feel like preseason in December.

(Before I continue, we should point out the Steelers have a schedule that's just as easy. Like the Ravens, only five of their opponents reached the playoffs last season.)

From a fan's perspective, there's one four-game stretch on the Ravens' schedule that's already got drool gathering in a giant puddle on the floor:

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Nov. 16 -- Monday Night Football at Cleveland;

Nov. 22 -- the Colts come to town (probably not in Mayflower trucks, though);

Nov. 29 -- the Steelers visit on a Sunday night, which is almost guaranteed to be one of the league's most anticipated matchups of the year;

Dec. 7 -- Monday night again, this time at Green Bay.

Let's say the Ravens lose at New England (they've still never beaten the Patriots in the regular season)... then you're looking at them entering that important stretch with a lot of national exposure and the possibility of just one loss on their record.

If I'm the coach of any other team, I play a card from the Ravens' deck and start whining about my schedule by comparison. Carolina has nine playoff teams on its schedule. And poor Rex Ryan and the Jets open on the road at Houston, then has New England and Tennessee at home, followed by two more road games. You think John Harbaugh shot him a text message last night that was simply, "LOL LOL LOL"?

Not scared of Green Bay's weather in December, 

Maese

The Conversation: Discussing the Ravens schedule

Maese,

It's true what you say about the Browns. Cleveland's brass must have compromising pictures of Roger Goodell and a harem of cheerleaders or something. By the way, who would have thought all those years ago that Drew Carey would be hosting the Price is Right and Craig Ferguson would be the funniest guy doing late-night television right now? (At least while Conan is on hiatus.)

You know why I'm looking forward to that New England game above all others? Because I want to see Flacco waltz into Gillette Stadium, look Tom Brady in the eye, and let Brady know he's gone soft and there is a new golden boy in the AFC. Remember when everyone said Brady was just a caretaker and that he wasn't really an elite quarterback? Well, fans around the NFL are saying that about Flacco. You can tell by the way the national media has a huge man crush on Matt Ryan but sort of shrugs its shoulders when it comes to Flacco. (Which guy got his team to the AFC championship game again?) I want to see Joe slay the Patriots and then, if he wants, use next season as a springboard to date a ridiculously hot Brazilian model who says inappropriate things about her quarterback's baby momma. I want to see Bill Belichick with that hang-dog look he has about 90 percent of the time when he can't videotape the other team's defensive signals.

I know the Steelers were world champions last year, blah, blah, blah. But until someone knocks off the Patriots with Brady under center in the AFC, they're still the team to beat. And while it might not be fair to my man Domonique Foxworth, I'm excited to see how he (or any other Ravens corner) is going to try to cover Randy Moss.

The one other game we haven't talked about is the The War Over The Color Purple, Ravens vs. Vikings. Great running backs don't stay healthy for very long, so I'm going to enjoy watching Adrian Peterson try to pick his way through the Baltimore defense. If Peterson has been held under 100 yards, I'm sure Ray Lewis will feel like he's earned every nickel of his new contract by the time that game is over.

By the way, just to wrap this up with one national comment, I'm fairly certain this is the year Tony Romo is exposed for being a total fraud. (Turn your hat around until you win a playoff game, clown.) Six prime-time games for the Cowboys? Does Jessica Simpson even have that many pairs of mom jeans to wear?

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Not wearing mom jeans as I type,

KVV

KVV, 

Forget Drew Carey and Craig Ferguson. I cannot get over the fact that Jimmy Fallon earns a paycheck to stare into the camera. Just one more note before I spend the afternoon doing a Google Images search on Jessica Simpson and mom jeans...

Did you see who was heading to Foxborough just one week before Flacco? Matt Ryan and the Falcons. I'm not sure what this means exactly. It's probably not a passing of a torch -- Brady will be just 32 next season -- but it might be an interesting way to gauge Ryan vs. Flacco. Who fares better against one of the game's most consistent QBs?

In fact, Flacco vs. Every Other QB is something we'll monitor all season. It will be interesting to watch him develop. Certainly the schedule should give him some seasoning before the Ravens' toughest games.

Begging you to never use that photo of the enthusiastic Steelers fan ever again,

Maese

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