In the end, Ravens were given the easiest schedule

Ravens running back Justin Forsett celebrates with wide receiver Kamar Aiken after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ravens running back Justin Forsett celebrates with wide receiver Kamar Aiken after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans at M&T Bank Stadium. (Mitch Stringer / USA Today Sports)

When the 2014 schedule was announced, it appeared the Ravens were unfortunate to face three straight AFC North rivals to open the season. But going into the final six weeks, they have the easiest schedule of any division opponent.

In the NFL, any team can win on any day, but you have to like the team's chances of making the playoffs compared to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, at least on the surface.


Cleveland plays four of its six remaining games on the road, including the season finale in Baltimore. The Browns also have to play Buffalo, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

The Bengals have the toughest schedule of the four teams. Not only do they have to face Cleveland on the road, but Cincinnati still has two games against Pittsburgh and one with Denver.


Pittsburgh has a bye this week and just two games left on the road. Besides the two games against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh still has to host Kansas City.

Everyone in the AFC has to face a dominant team, except the Ravens. Of the remaining six, there isn't an opponent in the class of an Indianapolis, Denver or Kansas City.


No one fears the Dolphins. They have a really good defense, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill and that pop gun passing game will struggle against the Ravens defense.


Cincinnati still has the most overall talent of any team in the AFC North, but the Ravens get an edge as far as the remaining schedule.

The Ravens, though, don't want to look too far ahead.

"It's hard not to, but you definitely don't want to," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Nothing is more important than the opponent you have right in front of you. You see it all the time, guys more focused on the next game and they forget about their opponent they have right there in front of them and they end up dropping one.

"But in our world, nothing is bigger to us than the New Orleans Saints, and the Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, and that outstanding receiver/tight end Jimmy Graham. It's the biggest game of our season right now."

Two good QBs left

Brees has struggled, as has San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, this season, but both could put up big numbers against the Ravens' depleted secondary.

The Ravens still have to prove they can beat a good quarterback. On Monday night, it will be hard with Brees playing at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Ravens have a better chance against Rivers because that game will be played at M&T Bank Stadium.

'A natural mismatch'

Graham leads the Saints and their No. 3 passing offense with 59 ctaches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton does a good job of using Graham. He can split him out wide as a receiver or put him in the slot. Or he might just line up outside the offensive tackle like most tight ends.

Where ever he is, the Ravens will have two to three pairs of eyes on him.

"Anytime you have to match up against a natural mismatch like that, it is a challenge," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You can't just do it one way. You're not going to just find one method to do that. You match up in many different ways, and that'll be a challenge with Jimmy Graham.

"He's one of the premier receivers in football. That's going to be tough for us, but we'll have to do it man coverage, zone coverage, on the line, off the line. There will be a lot of different ways we'll have to face that challenge."


I don't know about you, but it concerns me when offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak says he might need to simplify the offense for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Didn't former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron use to say the same thing?

Hmmm ...

'He's made some plays'

The Ravens will definitely emphasize running the ball in the remaining games, but there are questions about second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

Whenever the Ravens have had a strong running game in the past, they have had pure, natural fullbacks like Sam Gash, Lorenzo Neal or Vonta Leach.

Juszczyk is a tweener who has spent time at fullback, tight end and even in the slot. He weighs 248 pounds, but he doesn't deliver any knockout blows like Gash, Neal or Leach.

"I think Kyle has played well as a first-time starter," Kubiak said of his second-year fullback. "I think he's been very square in the run game giving our running backs a chance. He's made some plays in the pass game. I'd like to see him make some more, because the times he does catch the ball, it's very productive. I'm looking for ways to get more production, get more involved with him."

Blitz brothers

Hopefully, the Ravens learned how to deal with blitzes up the middle during the bye week. They will be facing New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

The last name is Ryan, so you can be sure that he will bring pressure and come up with all kinds of crazy alignments like twin brother Rex, coach of the New York Jets, and father Buddy, architect of Chicago's famed "46" defense, in the mid 1980s.

Have to convert third downs

Key statistic for Monday night's game will be the Ravens conversion rate on third downs. If the offense isn't efficient, the Ravens will have a hard time containing Brees.

For the season, the Ravens have converted on 51 of 128 third down situations.

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