The coronavirus pandemic might be the Ravens’ most formidable opponent this season. The defending Super Bowl champions, though, are at least a close second.
With the NFL’s release of its 2020 regular-season schedule Thursday, the Ravens learned they would face the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3, the highlight of a 16-game schedule that will test them in November.
Other stretches, though, are a little less treacherous. Over four months from the Ravens’ scheduled season opener, here’s how the two-time defending AFC North champions’ slate measures up, with opponents ordered from most to least difficult.
1. Week 3 vs. Chiefs
This has game-of-the-year potential, an early-season, prime-time showdown between the AFC’s (and maybe the NFL’s) top two teams. The Ravens finally have home-field advantage to pair with 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson and a superior defense. Kansas City has a Super Bowl ring, 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes and even more weapons than it did in last season’s meeting. The Chiefs have won two straight at home, but this winner will be stamped as the league’s best team, and deservedly so.
2. Week 12 at Steelers
The last time quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played against the Ravens, he had Le’Veon Bell in the backfield and Antonio Brown out wide. Pittsburgh won’t have quite the arsenal it did in those meetings, but the Ravens needed overtime to win at Heinz Field last season. The Steelers return 10 of 11 starters on defense, including outside linebacker T.J. Watt, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive end Cameron Heyward. A Thanksgiving night crowd will be hungry for more than just turkey and pie.
3. Week 6 at Eagles
Philadelphia was better than its 9-7 record suggested last season, finishing in the top half of the NFL in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Eagles want to go back to winning games like the Ravens have, with a dominant offensive line and powerful defensive front. Drafting wide receiver Jalen Reagor and trading for cornerback Darius Slay should help, too, but there’s still questions at both positions. If quarterback Carson Wentz can’t stay healthy, a showdown between Jackson and Jalen Hurts would be fun.
4. Week 13 vs. Cowboys
According to Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics, only two teams with top-10 offenses didn’t make the playoffs last season. One was Oakland, which had a dreadful defense. The other was Dallas, which squandered a high-flying attack with a late-season flop. Even after losing cornerback Byron Jones in free agency, the Cowboys should be NFC East favorites. An offense this talented can overcome a mediocre defense. This is another Thursday night game, but the Ravens will have had a full week off to prepare for first-year coach Mike McCarthy’s team.
6. Week 9 at Colts
Indianapolis still needs a long-term replacement at quarterback for the retired Andrew Luck, but a talented offensive line should help offseason acquisition Philip Rivers give the attack a boost. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. are instant-impact contributors, too. All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, another big-name addition, headlines a young but talented defense.
5. Week 11 vs. Titans
Tennessee returns the bulk of its starting offense from the team that stunned the Ravens in their divisional-round playoff game last season. Now quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver A.J. Brown have to prove that the Titans’ late-season run was no fluke. The defense isn’t especially fierce up front, especially after Pro Bowl defensive end Jurrell Casey was traded away this offseason. But there’s talent at inside linebacker and in the secondary.
7. Week 2 at Texans
The Ravens didn’t have to worry about facing star defensive end J.J. Watt in Baltimore last season. Now, even if he’s fully recovered from his pectoral injury, the Ravens don’t have to worry about stopping wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Houston’s baffling offseason trade sent him to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for running back David Johnson and a second-round pick. Still, it’s good advice to never count out Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
8. Week 10 at Patriots
After a handful of key offseason departures, New England’s defense probably won’t be up for consideration as the greatest of all time, as it was for much of last season. And on offense, well, the Patriots don’t have quarterback Tom Brady anymore. That’s Jarrett Stidham’s job now. A road win here would be significant: The Ravens are 0-5 all time in regular-season games at Foxboro Stadium and Gillette Stadium.
9. Week 14 at Browns
After last season, when a much-hyped Cleveland team won just six games and promptly replaced its head coach, anyone wanting to tout a “successful” offseason should probably keep quiet. But the Browns do have talent. No piece is more important than quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has the wide receivers (Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry), tight ends (Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant) and running backs (Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt) to test a defense like the Ravens’.
10. Week 7 vs. Steelers
Even with several starters resting, the host Ravens knocked a desperate Pittsburgh team out of playoff contention in Week 17 last season. If they take this game, they’ll have won three straight in the series for the first time since 2015-16 and head into their bye week on a high.
11. Week 1 vs. Browns
The Ravens open their 2020 slate against the last team to beat them in 2019. It’ll be hard for Jackson and Co. to start the season any better than they did last year, but a decisive win against first-year Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski could set the table for a potentially historic campaign.
12. Week 17 at Bengals
This will probably be Joe Burrow’s second look at the Ravens, but most expect the AFC North foes to end the regular season in very different places. Jackson won’t mind going back to Burrow’s native Ohio; he posted a perfect passer rating in his last game at Paul Brown Stadium. On defense, though, the Ravens will face a far greater challenge. Cincinnati not only has the NFL’s No. 1 overall draft pick but also a healthy A.J. Green at wide receiver along with rookie Tee Higgins, plus 2019 first-round pick and offensive tackle Jonah Williams.
13. Week 16 vs. Giants
New York is putting its faith in first-year coach Joe Judge and second-year quarterback Daniel Jones. Chances are that, if it works out, it won’t happen this season. The Giants wisely invested in rookie offensive linemen in last month’s draft, and running back Saquon Barkley is a go-the-distance threat every time he touches the ball. The defense has some talented young players but not a lot of playmakers.
14. Week 5 vs. Bengals
Burrow might be coming off one of the greatest seasons in college football history, but the Ravens generally make life miserable for first-year quarterbacks inside M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are 16-2 all time at home against rookie quarterbacks.
15. Week 4 at Redskins
With local talents like defensive end Chase Young and quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. leading first-year coach Ron Rivera’s makeover, there’s a little more hope in Washington. But the roster is riddled with holes, from left tackle to tight end to cornerback. Given Redskins fans’ waning interest in investing in the team, FedEx Field should be a sea of purple at kickoff.
16. Week 15 vs. Jaguars
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If Jacksonville doesn’t have the worst roster in the NFL, it’s close. And by the time the Jaguars head to Baltimore for a reunion with defensive end Calais Campbell, their season could be a lost cause, with one or two big-name players — defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, running back Leonard Fournette — already traded for draft capital. First-round picks C.J. Henderson and outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson have star potential, but the present is bleak.