The 2020 NFL season was unlike any other, played underneath the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the country progresses further into normalcy, the 2021 season should do the same, with fewer coronavirus-induced disruptions expected.
This means that, with the release of the NFL schedule Wednesday night, the Ravens are inching closer to once again filling M&T Bank Stadium and having their fans for a difficult home slate that includes seven opponents who made the playoffs last season.
Over four months away from the Ravens’ scheduled season opener, here’s how their slate measures up, with opponents ordered from most to least difficult.
1. Week 2 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday Night Football)
Last year’s “Monday Night Football” showdown, promoted as “The Game of the Year,” was anything but. Still handicapped by coronavirus protocols, the Ravens only had a limited number of family in attendance and were boat raced by halftime in an eventual 34-20 loss. It’s the quarterback matchup that has dogged Lamar Jackson’s otherwise stellar young career; he — and the Ravens — are 0-3 against quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City over the past three seasons. The clash always seems to be a measuring stick for the Ravens, and when you add in offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.’s first trip back to Baltimore since he was traded, it’s sure to be as compelling as ever. The Ravens will likely get the packed stadium under the lights they had hoped for last year, but it will come on short rest as the team returns from a season-opening Monday night game in Las Vegas.
2. Week 14 at Cleveland Browns
The Ravens’ Week 14 game against the Browns on Monday night last season was everything that Ravens-Chiefs was supposed to be. It had punches and counterblows from division foes. A cramping Jackson emerging from a locker room IV treatment to provide late-game heroics. A last-second field goal from Justin Tucker. And a fitting Paul Pierce reference postgame. After exceeding expectations in its first year under coach Kevin Stefanski and advancing to the divisional round, followed by an equally impressive offseason that addressed key needs on defense, Cleveland is a dark horse candidate to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
3. Week 13 at Pittsburgh Steelers
Initially scheduled to be the headlining prime-time game on Thanksgiving, the Ravens’ trip to Pittsburgh became a thrice-postponed, Wednesday afternoon affair with about a dozen starters and key contributors sidelined because of a team-wide outbreak. The remaining starters and fill-ins gave the then-undefeated Steelers all they could handle before eventually falling in a 19-14 defeat. With Heinz Field expected to be at or close to full capacity, and no coronavirus disruptions in play, one of the league’s best rivalries should return to form.
4. Week 15 vs. Green Bay Packers
The difficulty of this matchup could drop significantly depending on the status of a certain part-time “Jeopardy!” host by December. But if quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still on the roster by this time, player morale be damned: The Packers are still a team that has advanced to the past two NFC championship games with the reigning league Most Valuable Player and a well-rounded roster.
5. Week 18 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Once again, the season finale will be against a divisional foe and this could certainly have playoff implications, whether the outcome decides the division champion or sorts out a wild-card spot. The Ravens have split the season series with the Steelers over the past 18 meetings, but Pittsburgh swept them last season. The Steelers are 3-1 in their past four trips to M&T Bank Stadium.
6. Week 12 vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday Night Football)
The Ravens have won four of their past five home games against Cleveland by a margin of 17 points. This meeting will be the first of three straight divisional games over the course of a daunting second-half schedule.
7. Week 17 vs. Los Angeles Rams
This is the extra game added to the schedule as the NFL moves to a 17-game regular-season format. Los Angeles made the first big move of the offseason by trading quarterback Jared Goff and several draft picks to the Detroit Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford. The last time the Ravens faced the Rams, Jackson threw five touchdown passes on “Monday Night Football” at the LA Coliseum and cornerback Marcus Peters enacted revenge against his former team, whom he is still not fond of. Though the Rams haven’t been able to recapture the form that led them to the Super Bowl in 2019, Stafford is expected to be an upgrade over Goff and you can’t dismiss a defense headlined by defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, two of the league’s best players.
8. Week 5 vs. Indianapolis Colts (Monday Night Football)
The Indianapolis defense had Jackson stuck in neutral for the first half of the teams’ meeting last season, a 24-10 Ravens win. The Colts return much of their young, ascending roster from the previous season, and their success will be incumbent on a resurgence from quarterback Carson Wentz, who reunites with coach Frank Reich, his offensive coordinator back in Philadelphia.
9. Week 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers
With a standout campaign that resulted in Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, quarterback Justin Herbert has joined the AFC’s list of young and promising quarterbacks. The Chargers defense should also be boosted by the return of star safety Derwin James, who missed all of the 2020 season with a knee injury. Much will be made of this matchup, the teams’ first meeting since Los Angeles stymied Jackson’s magical rookie run in the 2019 wild-card game, although much of the key pieces are different.
10. Week 10 at Miami Dolphins (Thursday Night Football)
The Dolphins have quickly made strides in their rebuild under third-year coach Brian Flores, finishing with a 10-6 record last season and just barely missing the playoffs. Miami will need significant improvement from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who had an up-and-down rookie season.
11. Week 9 vs. Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins threw for a career-high 35 touchdown passes last season, but a Minnesota defense that was ravaged by injuries struggled, finishing 18th in efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. The Vikings are just a few years removed from an appearance in the NFC championship game and have never recorded consecutive losing seasons under head coach Mike Zimmer.
12. Week 1 at Las Vegas Raiders (Monday Night Football)
The Ravens will open their season on “Monday Night Football” for the fourth time in franchise history and hold a 2-1 record in such games. The team is also 2-0 in season openers with Jackson as the starting quarterback and 10-3 under coach John Harbaugh. The Raiders are still searching for their first winning season as they enter the fourth year in the second installment of the Jon Gruden era. There will be plenty of familiar faces for the Ravens on the opposing sideline, including tight end Darren Waller, wide receiver Willie Snead IV and edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue.
13. Week 4 at Denver Broncos
This game becomes a lot more interesting if Rodgers is under center instead of Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater. Denver has a young and talented roster but has been held back by the play of Lock, who is 8-10 as a starter and has completed less than 60% of his passes in his first two seasons.
14. Week 11 at Chicago Bears
Whoever lines up at quarterback for Chicago, the Ravens will feel confident in their chances. It could be Andy Dalton, who’s 8-9 against the Ravens in his career. Or it could be rookie Justin Fields; the Ravens are 17-2 at home all time against first-year signal-callers.
15. Week 16 at Cincinnati Bengals
The last time quarterback Joe Burrow faced the Ravens defense, he was sacked seven times, fumbled twice and threw an interception in a 27-3 loss at M&T Bank Stadium. Burrow, returning from surgery for a torn ACL, should be improved in his second season. But by how much?
16. Week 7 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Ravens have won their past five meetings with the Bengals by an average margin of close to 21 points and Jackson has normally been at his best against Cincinnati. He rushed for a career-high 152 yards in a 2019 matchup and has thrown eight touchdown passes in his past three games against the Bengals.
17. Week 3 at Detroit Lions
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Though the Lions sent Stafford to Los Angeles and acquired Goff, along with a treasure trove of draft picks, this is a franchise in rebuilding mode with a first-time head coach and general manager. It might be the lightest matchup of a hard slate, but make no mistake: kneecaps will be on alert.