Coming off a 9-7 season and missing the playoffs for the third straight year, the Ravens found out how tough their road back to the playoffs will be when the 2018 NFL schedule was released Thursday night. The Baltimore Sun staff weighs in on the schedule's difficulty.
The Ravens open at home against the Buffalo Bills, will be done with AFC North road games after Oct. 7, have a three-game road trip, have a three-game homestand, face four straight 2017 playoff teams in the midseason, and have back-to-back road games against the Falcons and Chiefs in December.
It's a position coach John Harbaugh has never been in as a head coach. The history for 0-2 teams in the NFL is gloomy, and the Ravens' path will get no easier as they prepare to host the AFC North-rival Cincinnati Bengals in their home opener on Sunday.
The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Browns plus a Bengals loss, or a Ravens win plus the San Diego Chargers losing or tying the Kansas City Chiefs or a Ravens tie plus a Chargers loss.
Steve Smith's 14th NFL season has been eye-opening for the 35-year-old, given that the Panthers organization was all he had ever known. But each game seems to bring Smith flashbacks to an earlier phase of his career, and that's the case again as the Ravens (7-4) prepare to face the Chargers (7-4) on Sunday in a key game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Some sports name three stars of the game after the game. I'll do that one better: I'm going to name them before the Ravens even play. These will be the three stars of the game when the Ravens travel to the site of their Super Bowl XLVII win in New Orleans to face the Saints on Monday Night Football.
The Ravens sacked Matt Ryan five times, including a safety by Terrell Suggs, and held the Atlanta Falcons off the scoreboard until about midway through the fourth quarter in a 29-7 victory in front of an announced 71,184 at M&T Bank Stadium.
When Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco took his first snap in the full-squad portion of Wednesday's practice, three of his usual five starting linemen were nowhere to be found. Despite that, and a shaky performance by the offensive line last Sunday, Flacco said he has no concerns about the group.
After monitoring the Smith and Carolina Panthers fallout from afar, the Ravens finally had their first opportunity to make their pitch to the five-time Pro Bowl receiver after he was released following 13 NFL seasons with the Panthers.