Ravens' 2018 schedule opens at home against Bills but is front-loaded with road games

As the 2017 regular season came to an abrupt and gut-wrenching end for the Ravens, they had to watch the Cincinnati Bengals celebrate on their home field and the Buffalo Bills revel in the result many miles away.

Cincinnati’s 31-27 upset in Week 17 at M&T Bank Stadium, secured on a long, last-minute touchdown, knocked the Ravens out of the playoff chase and sent the Bills into the postseason for the first time since 1999.

The Ravens will have an early opportunity in 2018 to get back at both teams. The NFL unveiled its 2018 regular-season schedule tonight and the Ravens will open it at home Sept. 9 against the Bills, followed four days later with a Thursday night road matchup against the Bengals.

Looking to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2014, the Ravens will have to navigate a road-heavy start with four of their first six games away from home, including road matchups with all three AFC North foes. The Ravens, though, will not have to leave Baltimore for the entire month of November with home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Nov. 4), Bengals (Nov. 18) and Oakland Raiders (Nov. 25), along with a Week 10 (Nov. 11) bye.

Seven of the Ravens’ eight home games are scheduled to start at 1 p.m. with the only exception being a 4:05 p.m. kickoff for the Oct. 21 game against the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are scheduled to play just two prime-time games: the Week 2 Thursday matchup at Cincinnati on Sept. 13 and a Week 4 Sunday night matchup at the Steelers on Sept. 30. This will be the 12th consecutive season the Ravens and Steelers play at least one game in prime time.

There are really no soft spots on the Ravens’ schedule. A road game against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 14 will start a four-game stretch in which the Ravens will also face the Saints, the Carolina Panthers on the road (Oct. 28) and the Steelers at home. All four teams made the postseason last year.

After three consecutive November home games, the Ravens have back-to-back road games against 2017 playoff teams: the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 2 and the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 9. They’ll then close the season with a home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Dec. 16), a road matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers (Dec. 22 or 23) and the home regular-season finale versus the Cleveland Browns (Dec. 30).

Overall, the Ravens will play eight of their 16 games in 2018 against teams that made the playoffs last season.

Here’s a more detailed look at the schedule:

Vs. Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 9, 1 p.m.: Sean McDermott’s team made the playoffs in his first season. However, the Bills have a host of offensive questions. The biggest one is whether they can come out of next week’s draft with a franchise quarterback. This is the second time in three seasons they’ll open in Baltimore.

At Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday, Sept. 13, 8:20 p.m.: The Ravens won’t open against the Bengals as they have in three of the past six years. Still, they’ll get an early opportunity to exact revenge after Cincinnati’s stunning 31-27 victory in Baltimore last December. Every team will have a Thursday game, and the Ravens will get theirs out of the way early.

Vs. Denver Broncos, Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m.: Coach Vance Joseph got a reprieve after the Broncos finished 5-11 last year. He also now has stability at quarterback with the signing of Case Keenum. This will be the Broncos’ first trip to Baltimore since they beat the Ravens, 34-17, in December 2012.

At Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Sept. 30, 8:20 p.m.: After winning six of seven games against the Steelers, the Ravens have dropped three straight against their archrivals. That includes consecutive defeats at Heinz Field in which the Ravens blew late leads.

At Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 7, 1 p.m.: In John Harbaugh’s 10 seasons, the Ravens are 18-2 against the Browns. With the additions of veterans Tyrod Taylor, Carlos Hyde and Jarvis Landry, and with six of the first 65 picks in next week’s draft, including No. 1 and No. 4, the Browns should have their most talented roster in years. This is the earliest the Ravens will have ever finished their AFC North Division road schedule; the previous earliest was Week 9 of 2014.

At Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 14, 4:25 p.m.: For the second straight season, the Ravens will face the Titans at Nissan Stadium. The Ravens were beaten there, 23-20, last November. A major subplot will be Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees facing his former team after his short-lived retirement this offseason.

Vs. New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Oct. 21, 4:05 p.m.: Drew Brees has been in the NFL since 2001, but this will be just his second career game at M&T Bank Stadium. Brees threw three touchdown passes against the Ravens in a 30-24 loss in Baltimore in December 2010. The Saints will enter the season with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

At Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m.: In their fifth road game in a seven-week span, the Ravens will face a Carolina team that has made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. This is the Ravens’ first trip to Bank of America Stadium since 2010. Cam Newton’s group of targets now includes former Raven Torrey Smith.

Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 4, 1 p.m.: With all their key offensive pieces back, Mike Tomlin’s team will enter the season as the heavy favorites in the AFC North. The Steelers have won 10 games or more in four consecutive years, and they haven’t had a losing season since 2003. The rivals will be done with their regular-season series by Week 9.

Vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 18, 1 p.m.: The Ravens exit a Week 10 bye week to play the second of three consecutive home games. Coach Marvin Lewis returns to lead the Bengals for his 16th season. His team continues to be a thorn in the Ravens’ side, beating them in seven of the past nine meetings.

Vs. Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m.: The return of coach Jon Gruden will be a major storyline this season. For it to be a success, the Raiders need a bounce-back year from quarterback Derek Carr. Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree facing the team that cut him in March should be compelling. This is the fourth consecutive regular season these two teams will meet.

At Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Dec. 2, 1 p.m.: Cue up the latest installments of the Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco comparisons. Flacco and Ryan, the two quarterbacks taken in the first round in 2008, have split their two career meetings. This marks the Ravens' first trip to Atlanta for a regular-season game since 2010 and starts a difficult four-week stretch.

At Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m.: The Ravens will get an up-close look at new Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who takes the reins of an explosive offense that includes Kareem Hunt, Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. It’s the latest matchup between Harbaugh and his longtime boss in Philadelphia, Andy Reid.

Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Dec. 16, 1 p.m.: Ravens fans will get a chance to welcome back Ryan Jensen, whom the Buccaneers made the highest-paid center in the league this offseason. After a disappointing 5-11 season in 2017 and a last-place finish in the tough NFC South, coach Dirk Koetter will enter the year on the hot seat.

At Los Angeles Chargers, Saturday or Sunday, Dec. 22 or 23, TBA: The Chargers are playing another season at the StubHub Center as they await the opening of the $2.6 billion stadium they’ll share with the Los Angeles Rams. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Ravens safety Eric Weddle, longtime teammates in San Diego, will match wits in the Ravens’ road finale.

Vs. Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 30, 1 p.m.: The Browns are 1-31 over the past two seasons under coach Hue Jackson. Cleveland has had 10 straight losing seasons and won more than five games in a year just once since 2007. The Browns’ last postseason berth was in 2002. This marks just the second time since 2010 that the Ravens will finish the regular season against somebody other than Cincinnati.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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