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Instant analysis of the Ravens' 2018 schedule

Here's how The Baltimore Sun's experts believe the Ravens will finish based on the release of the 2018 NFL schedule Thursday night. The team still has an opportunity to improve with next week's NFL draft.

>>Ron Fritz, editor: It appears that even perennial bottom feeders like the Browns are going to be better this season, so you can't guarantee two wins there. This isn't an easy schedule by any means. The Ravens look like they'll struggle to go 8-8. They would have to win one more, ideally two, and still have to sweat out making the postseason. Game to watch: The second Steelers game could be Ben Roethlisberger's final one against the Ravens.

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>>Jeff Zrebiec, reporter: With five of their first eight games on the road and their first two games in a five-day span, the Ravens will need to start the season in good form. A poor start would be disastrous with difficult December road games against the Falcons, Chiefs and Chargers on the schedule. That the Ravens have no prime-time home games is a bummer for their fans. However, at least the team won't close and/or open the regular season against the Bengals this year. It's about time. Being done with AFC North road games by Week 5 also can benefit the Ravens if they're able to go on the road and take care of business in Cleveland and grab a win in either Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. This is a difficult schedule, but we knew that in late December when it was clear who the team's 2018 opponents would be. There's nothing about it that is unfair. The Ravens will have an uphill road to get back to the postseason.

>>Edward Lee, reporter: No matter how deeply shaded your purple-tinted glasses might be, there is hardly a "sure thing" in the Ravens' 2018 schedule. Sure, the Browns have only one win in their past two seasons, but they did make moves in the offseason (landing wide receiver Jarvis Landry and quarterback Tyrod Taylor) to improve. Maybe the Bills game at home is as close to a check mark in the win column, but the rest of the schedule is littered with land mines. The prediction here is that the Ravens will go 5-3 at home, but 1-7 on the road for a overall record of 6-10 and miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.

>>Childs Walker, reporter: I know the schedule isn't overwhelming if you only look at winning percentages from last season. But, man, that road slate looks rough, with away games against the Falcons, Panthers, Chiefs, Chargers and Titans on top of the usual divisional fare. If we had to set the odds today, would the Ravens be favored in any of those games? On top of that, they have to play three road games in a row and four in five weeks during the first half of the season. None of those first-half trips are particularly long, but still, the Ravens will be hard-pressed to jump off to a roaring start. On the plus side, they get their Thursday game out of the way early, the bye falls at an optimal time, and they won't have to travel at all in November. The home schedule is less daunting, with games against Buccaneers and Broncos. And from an attendance/routine standpoint, they have to be thrilled that all but one of the home games are on Sunday at 1 p.m. I just don't see a lot of easy games for a Ravens team that's still trying to sort out its offense, especially if the Browns score big in the upcoming draft. I don't believe in projecting a team's record now, when there's still so much we don't know. But at first glance, it seems the Ravens might have to fight to stay above .500 again.

>>Jen Badie, editor: The Ravens should have a fairly winnable home schedule (none of the teams they face at home had a winning road record last year except the Steelers). But the away schedule will be tough as the Ravens travel to play five playoff teams from last year. And the road schedule starts out with a trip to Cincinnati four days after the opener. The Ravens face teams from perhaps the best division last year: the NFC South, which had three teams in the playoffs. There are two tough stretches: in October when they face the Titans on the road, the Saints at home, the Panthers on the road and the Steelers at home; and then in December when they travel to the Falcons and the Chiefs in weeks 13 and 14 and then to the Chargers for their lone West Coast trip in Week 16. They should be capable of beating most of the teams at home, but the road will prove to be tough. Looks for an 8-8 finish.

>>Mike Preston, columnist: A lot is often made about NFL schedules, but it's hard to predict how a team will finish, especially in April. The only thing we know for sure is that the 2018 schedule will be tougher than the 2017 slate because the Ravens will play NFC South teams instead of those from the NFC North. Last year the Ravens had Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit on the schedule; this year they have to play higher-caliber teams, such as Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. The major difference will be the opponents' improved play at the quarterback position compared with a year ago. The Ravens play only two prime-time games, and they will complain about that, but they shouldn't because they don't play entertaining football and don't have any big-name players who attract attention. I like the fact that three of their first five games are against AFC North opponents and that they finish with four of seven at home. The Ravens will not have to leave Baltimore in the month of November. Overall, it's a schedule the Ravens shouldn't complain about, but they'll have to play harder and better this season compared with a year ago when they had an easier schedule, one of the easiest in the NFL during the second half of the season.

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