The annual NFL schedule release is one of the most highly anticipated days on the calendar, filled with guesses and leaks before the actual thing comes out.
The league, masters of TV programming, has turned this year’s reveal into a full-day affair; its broadcast partners, ABC, CBS and Fox, announced their Week 1 slate Wednesday morning before every team’s 18-week regular-season schedule is released at 7:50 p.m. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens will travel to Las Vegas to open the season on “Monday Night Football” against Jon Gruden, Derek Carr and the Raiders.
Here are five things to know before the Ravens’ 2021 schedule is announced.
Who are the Ravens playing at home?
Along with the divisional home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens will host the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams. Six of these opponents made the playoffs last season.
Where are the Ravens playing on the road?
In addition to away games against their divisional rivals, the Ravens will travel to play the Raiders, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins. Only two of the team’s road opponents — the Steelers and Browns — made the playoffs last season.
How many prime-time games will the Ravens have?
NFL rules allow teams to be scheduled for as many as five prime-time games. Last year, with the reigning league Most League Valuable Player in Jackson and a team that finished 14-2, the Ravens got five stand-alone games, including three straight late in the season. The team’s profile and star-studded roster make it a strong candidate to receive the maximum allotted prime-time games again. One such game has already been revealed in the Raiders. After last season’s 47-42 shootout against the Cleveland Browns on “Monday Night Football,” that matchup is sure to be placed under the lights again. A game against the Steelers could be another, especially after the Ravens’ team-wide coronavirus outbreak forced the league to thrice postpone the team’s Thanksgiving night game. And the Ravens-Chiefs will always be a compelling draw so long as both teams feature the best young quarterbacks in the league. A prime-time matchup with another legacy franchise such as the Packers, or up-and-comers such as the Chargers and Dolphins, are also interesting options.
Why was a 17th game added?
As part of the new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and NFL Players Association in 2020, the owners had the right to expand the 16-game regular-season format to 17 games over 18 weeks once a new media rights deal was signed. The NFL in March announced a new 11-year deal with its broadcasting partners, paving the way for an expanded regular season (The preseason has also been reduced from four games to three). The extra game will include an interconference matchup; the Ravens will host the Rams, who finished in the same place as them in the NFC West. Each year, the 17th game will alternate between home and road games.
Will fans be allowed at M&T Bank Stadium?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he expects stadiums to be at full capacity in 2021 but the league has allowed franchises to defer to their respective state and local health agencies. Ravens president Dick Cass wrote a letter to personal seat license owners saying that the team is preparing to have M&T Bank Stadium at full capacity. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that, effective Saturday, outdoor sporting venues such as M&T Bank Stadium will be able to operate with no capacity restrictions. Local jurisdictions are allowed to enact stricter restrictions and Baltimore has typically reopened at a slower pace — Mayor Brandon Scott announced Wednesday that outdoor sporting venues can operate at 50% capacity, starting Monday — though the start of the football season is still four months away.
Ultimately, it will all depend on the state of the coronavirus pandemic by the time the season arrives. Virus caseloads and hospitalizations have continued to decrease as vaccinations become more widely available but Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has still cautioned people to continue mask-wearing and follow local health guidelines.
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“While I am hopeful that the downward COVID-19 trends in Baltimore will continue through the start of the NFL season, recent history proves case spikes can occur,” he told The Baltimore Sun. “Whether you are rooting for the Ravens at M&T Stadium or a small gathering with friends, please adhere to the expert guidance from Baltimore City Health Department — maintain social distance, wear a mask, and get fully vaccinated.”