Coming off a division championship, the Ravens were going to face a difficult schedule regardless. The fact they also play the AFC East and NFC North only adds to the difficulty.
A lot changes in the NFL from season-to-season, but based on last year's results, the Ravens will play the fifth-hardest schedule in the NFL this season. Baltimore's opponents combined for a .535 winning percentage in 2012 and seven of the Ravens' 16 games will come against playoff teams.
Playing in the AFC East doesn't do Baltimore any favors. While the Steelers are coming off a down season, they have re-tooled and could be in the playoff hunt once again. Cincinnati made the playoffs last year and added more pieces to its young, talented roster. The Cleveland Browns may not be a playoff contender, but they also played the Ravens tough a year ago.
Here's a closer look at Baltimore's 2013 schedule:
|1||Sept. 5||@ Denver||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|2||Sept. 15||vs. Cleveland||1 p.m.||CBS|
|3||Sept. 22||vs. Houston||1 p.m.||CBS|
|4||Sept. 29||@ Buffalo||1 p.m.||CBS|
|5||Oct. 6||@ Miami||1 p.m.||CBS|
|6||Oct. 13||vs. Green Bay||1 p.m.||FOX|
|7||Oct 20||@ Pittsburgh||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|9||Nov. 3||@ Cleveland||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|10||Nov. 10||vs. Cincinnati||1 p.m.||CBS|
|11||Nov. 17||@ Chicago||1 p.m.||CBS|
|12||Nov. 24||vs. New York Jets||1 p.m.||CBS|
|13||Nov. 28||vs. Pittsburgh||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|14||Dec. 8||vs. Minnesota||1 p.m.||FOX|
|15||Dec. 16||@ Detroit||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|16||Dec. 22||vs. New England||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|17||Dec. 29||@ Cincinnati||1 p.m.||CBS|
Toughest out: Denver Broncos
Baltimore has a few really tough games, so it's hard to pick which will be the hardest. A late season game against Pittsburgh on a short week won't be easy. Neither will the final game of the year on the road against Cincinnati, a week after playing New England.
The hardest game, however, may be the first of the year. Opening the season on a Thursday, on the road, against Peyton Manning and a very good Broncos team is going to be a challenge. The Ravens are replacing multiple key contributors on defense. With so much change there is a decent chance it takes time to work out a few kinks. With Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker waiting, the Ravens aren't likely to get much of a chance to gel.
Must win: New York Jets
Not only are the New York Jets likely the weakest team on the schedule, but Baltimore plays them in the middle of a key stretch of games. Baltimore will face Cincinnati at home, then go on the road to face Chicago before returning home to face the Jets. After that, its two games at home against Pittsburgh and Minnesota. Four of those five teams will likely contend for the playoffs this season.
A loss to New York would be a serious blow and the Ravens wouldn't have much time to recover with Pittsburgh coming to town for a Thursday night game.
Don't overlook: Miami Dolphins
While Miami finished last season 7-9, the Dolphins added a ton of talent in free agency and the draft. Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is also improving and the Ravens will travel to Miami as the second leg of back-to-back road games.
Baltimore plays Green Bay then Pittsburgh in the following weeks and could be looking ahead. Before they get there, however, they will first have to avoid the upset in Miami, something the Seattle Seahawks failed to do last year.