Ravens face early bumps on the road; Five of first 7 games are away, but 4 of last 5 at home bring balance; Billick: 'It's a fair schedule'; 3 are on national TV; no Monday night game


The Ravens will play in three nationally televised games during the 2000 season, and five of the team's first seven games are on the road, including three against AFC Central rivals.

The NFL yesterday released the Ravens' 16-game schedule, which includes opening the season on the road against Pittsburgh after playing their final two preseason games away from home. The Ravens have a three-game road stint to open October against Cleveland, Jacksonville and Washington.

But the team will end the season by playing four of its final five games at PSINet Stadium. They'll play Dallas and Cleveland at home to end November, followed by a bye on Dec. 3. The Ravens will play host to the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 10, travel to Arizona for a Dec. 17 meeting, then close out the regular season against the New York Jets at home on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.

"One of our biggest concerns is that we have some road games early, including the final two preseason games before we open up with Pittsburgh on the road," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Playing in Pittsburgh is a challenge, especially with that crowd, but we'll be ready.

"It's a fair schedule. The three consecutive road games are tough, but that's balanced with having four of our last five at PSINet Stadium."

The Ravens' schedule includes seven games against playoff teams, six vs. teams with winning records and three against .500 teams. Halfway through the season, the Ravens will have played six of their eight games against AFC Central teams.

After the 1999 season, the AFC Central ended up ranking as one of the toughest divisions in the league, with Tennessee beating Jacksonville for the AFC championship in the third meeting between the teams. The Titans lost to St. Louis in the Super Bowl.

"Clearly, there is a heightened sense of importance," Billick said of the early division games. "By mid-October, we'll have had a once-through in the entire division and you will have a pretty good sense of how you stack up, which is a little more important for us because it's a six-team division.

"Jacksonville and Tennessee put our division at a certain level, and hopefully we'll be a factor in it," Billick said. "Pittsburgh is a team that has been very successful over the years with Bill [Cow- her]. When you can point to three or four teams in the division, I think it's a fair observation to say it might be the best in the league."

The Ravens will play two Sunday night games on ESPN, at Miami on Sept. 17 and at Jacksonville on Oct. 8. The Ravens-Cowboys game set for Nov. 19 at PSINet Stadium is the feature game for Fox-TV's national doubleheader. It is also the Ravens' only home game that will start at 4: 15 p.m. The rest are 1 p.m. starts.

"The three national games indicate an increased respect for us," said Ravens owner Art Modell. "We were hoping for a Monday night game at home, but this is a good schedule."

The Ravens were humbled in their only nationally televised game last season, a 35-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the team's and Billick's low point of the season.

"It's indicative of certain expectations, that they feel we have a chance to be a little bit better," Billick said of the nationally televised games. "We have to see if we can redeem ourselves from a year ago. Oh, my God, that was terrible."

Ravens schedule

Date Opponent Time

9-3 at Pittsburgh 1

9-10 Jacksonville 1

9-17 at Miami 8: 20

9-24 Cincinnati 1

10-1 at Cleveland 1

10-8 at Jacksonville 8: 20

10-15 at Washington 1

10-22 Tennessee 1

10-29 Pittsburgh 1

11-5 at Cincinnati 1

11-12 at Tennessee 1

11-19 Dallas 4: 15

11-26 Cleveland 1

12-3 Open

12-10 San Diego 1

12-17 at Arizona 4: 15

12-24 New York Jets 1

Team-by-team schedules. [Page 7D]

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