The consensus around the NFL is that the Ravens will rebound from a difficult 5-11 campaign, but if the 2016 regular-season schedule is any indication, league and network executives aren't convinced the team is a playoff contender.
Released Thursday night, the Ravens' schedule includes just two prime-time games -- a Nov. 10 matchup with the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium (the mandatory Thursday night contest) and a Monday, Dec. 12 game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. It marks the eighth time in nine seasons in which the Ravens won't have a Monday night home game.
While a late-season Sunday afternoon game could get flexed into prime time, the two night games on the initial schedule stand as the fewest since 2006, when the Ravens also played twice at night. The Ravens will play the Pittsburgh Steelers at 4:30 p.m., on Sunday, Dec.25, as part of the NFL's two-game slate on Christmas Day.
The Ravens will begin the year on Sunday, Sept. 11 against Rex Ryan's Buffalo Bills, starting a season-opening stretch in which they'll play six of their first seven games against teams that didn't go to the playoffs last year. Following a Week 8 bye, the Ravens will be at M&T Bank Stadium for four of their next five games.
If the Ravens are going to return to the playoffs for the seventh time in John Harbaugh's nine seasons, a strong start is imperative. Three of their final four games will be on the road and against perennial playoff teams. That stretch starts with the Monday night matchup against the Patriots, followed by a home game against the Philadelphia Eagles (Dec. 18), and road contests versus the Steelers (Dec. 25) and Cincinnati Bengals (Jan. 1).
It marks the sixth time in seven seasons the Ravens will close the regular season against Marvin Lewis' Bengals. Overall, the Ravens, who are looking to win the AFC North for the first time since 2012, will play five of their six divisional games in the second half of the season.
Other highlights of the schedule include the local clash against the reigning NFC East champion Washington Redskins on Oct. 9 on the new natural grass surface at M&T Bank Stadium; back-to-back Sunday 1 p.m. games at MetLife Stadium, first against the New York Giants (Oct. 16.) and the following week (Oct. 23) against the New York Jets; and the Ravens' first-ever regular-season game at AT&T Stadium on Nov. 20 against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Ravens will play just six games during the 2016 season against teams that made the playoffs last year.
WEEK 1: vs. Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 11, 1 p.m.
Skinny: Tyrod Taylor, Joe Flacco's former backup, returns to Baltimore not only as a starting quarterback, but as a reigning Pro Bowl selection. Since leaving the Ravens' organization, former New York Jets and current Bills coach Rex Ryan is 0-3 against his ex-team.
WEEK 2: at Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Sept. 18, 1 p.m.
Skinny: The Ravens' road opener will take them to a place where they have been victorious in seven of their past eight visits, including last year's dramatic Will Hill touchdown return of a blocked field goal. Will the Ravens be preparing for Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown or a rookie quarterback?
WEEK 3: at Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Sept. 25, 1 p.m.
Skinny: Jacksonville beat the Ravens in Baltimore last season, although the NFL later admitted an officiating error put the Jaguars in position to kick a game-winning field goal. The Jaguars are just 12-36 under coach Gus Bradley, and they haven't had a winning season since 2007.
WEEK 4: vs. Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Oct. 2, 1 p.m.
Skinny: The Raiders are 0-5 all-time in Baltimore and they haven't enjoyed a winning season since 2002. However, the development of young quarterback Derek Carr and several offseason additions, including former Raven Kelechi Osemele, has the denizens of the Black Hole thinking playoffs.
WEEK 5: vs. Washington Redskins, Sunday, Oct. 9, 1 p.m.
Skinny: The local rivals will meet in a regular-season game for just the second time in the past eight seasons. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden exchanged words during a preseason game last year. Much more will be on the line this time around.
WEEK 6: at New York Giants, Sunday, Oct. 16, 1 p.m.
Skinny: In the first of back-to-back road games at MetLife Stadium, the Ravens will face a Giants team that is 28-36 since winning Super Bowl XLVI. The Giants spent nearly $200 million this offseason in signing pass rusher Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and nose tackle Damon Harrison.
WEEK 7: at New York Jets, Sunday, Oct. 23, 1 p.m.
Skinny: The Ravens have owned the Jets over the years, winning eight straight matchups since losing to them in overtime in the inaugural meeting in 1997. The Jets haven't gone to the playoffs in five straight years and they have significant questions at quarterback if they can't resign Ryan Fitzpatrick.
WEEK 8: BYE
WEEK 9: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 6, 1 p.m.
Skinny: After a Week 8 bye, the Ravens return to action against their fiercest rivals in a rare non prime-time matchup between the two teams. The Ravens have won five of the past six games against Pittsburgh. This starts a stretch where the Ravens will play three AFC North rivals in four weeks.
WEEK 10: vs. Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Nov. 10, 8:25 p.m.
Skinny: M&T Bank Stadium won't host a Monday Night game for the eighth time in the past nine seasons; however, it does get a Thursday night matchup between the Ravens and Browns. New Browns coach Hue Jackson is hoping to break a streak of eight consecutive losing seasons in Cleveland.
WEEK 11: at Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 20, 1 p.m.
Skinny: In their last regular-season trip to Dallas in 2008, the Ravens throttled the Cowboys to close down Texas Stadium. This will be the Ravens' first ever regular-season game at Jerry Jones' colossal AT&T Stadium. Jones' Cowboys are 0-4 all-time against the Ravens.
WEEK 12: vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 27, 1 p.m.
Skinny: The Ravens will have to wait a while to exorcise their demons against the Bengals. Cincinnati has won five straight meetings and the Ravens have yet to figure out how to deal with star receiver A.J. Green. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis might not be able to survive a sixth straight first-round playoff exit.
WEEK 13: vs. Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 4, 1 p.m.
Skinny: After hosting the Ravens in three consecutive seasons in sunny South Florida, the Dolphins finally make a return trip to Baltimore. The presence of offensive-minded first-year coach Adam Gase has many believing it's now-or-never for inconsistent quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
WEEK 14: at New England Patriots, Monday, Dec. 12, 8:30 p.m.
Skinny: It's hardly surprising the Ravens' lone Monday night game is at Gillette Stadium against Tom Brady and the Patriots. This is the first meeting between the two teams since the 2014 divisional playoff matchup, when New England overcame two 14-point deficits. That was the game before the Deflategate scandal began.
WEEK 15: vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 18, 1 p.m.
Skinny: The Eagles haven't played a regular-season game in Baltimore since 2008, John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco's first year with the team. New Eagles coach Doug Pederson played for Philadelphia in 1999 under a coaching staff that included Harbaugh. This is the Ravens' last regular-season home game.
WEEK 16: at Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 25, 4:30 p.m.
Skinny: The Ravens will spend Christmas at the home of their biggest rival. Will the AFC North title be on the line? Will both Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger be healthy? The Steelers lost suspended receiver Martavis Bryant, but got back Le'Veon Bell to what should be one of the league's top offenses.
WEEK 17: at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m.