I was able to sit down and digest the Ravens' schedule this morning, and here are five random observations:
1. Steelers week begins the second the lockout ends: The hype machine was ratcheted up before the Ravens’ 2010 season opener against the Jets, and it’s going to kick into another gear this year. For the first time since 2003, the Ravens open the season against the Steelers, and this rivalry has escalated a great deal since then. Get ready to start talking trash whenever the labor brouhaha gets resolved.
2. The NFL is shining its spotlight on the Ravens: The Ravens play five games in prime-time, including a John Harbaugh v. Jim Harbaugh showdown Thanksgiving night. (Side note: The NFL really killed my holiday season by scheduling the Ravens on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.) Also, the Ravens only have eight games with 1 p.m. starts, so that means tailgating will be maximized on many Sundays.
3. The Ravens’ run defense will get tested early: In each of the Ravens’ first six games, their defense will be challenged by formidable running attacks. They face premier backs in Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Arian Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew, and the Steelers and the Jets also excel at running the rock.
4. The Ravens’ road schedule is sneaky tough: On paper, the Ravens’ schedule is one of the NFL’s weakest, but don’t sleep on some of their road games. The Ravens are 2-5 all-time in Jacksonville. They haven’t fared well in prime-time games in Pittsburgh. The Seahawks (somehow) have one of the NFL’s rowdiest crowds. And their Sunday night showdown with the Chargers is on West Coast time.
5. Joe Flacco is going to put up big numbers: The Ravens are going up against some porous pass defenses this season. Six of their opponents finished in the bottom 10 in passing yards allowed in 2010, including the Texans, the Jaguars and the Titans. If Flacco continues to develop as expected -- and the Ravens find him a deep threat -- he could have a monster 2011. Fantasy football players, you’ve been warned.