Ravens face demanding schedule (Updated)

OWINGS MILLS -- As a consequence of a 2005 campaign described as underachieving by owner Steve Bisciotti, the nation will probably see a lot less of the Baltimore Ravens this fall.

Following a 6-10 disappointment last year where Baltimore appeared in four Sunday night or Monday night games, the Ravens were limited to two prime-time games and both are on the road. The road is also where their season begins, with a Sept. 10 trip to play the defending NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With the release of the entire NFL regular-season schedule Thursday, the Ravens learned that they will travel to Denver to play the Broncos in a Monday night game Oct. 9 on ESPN and will play the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on NFL Network.

The Thursday night game against the AFC North champion Bengals comes only four days after the Ravens play the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens have seven games against five playoff teams from last season, including a total of four games against playoff opponents in the AFC North with their series against theSteelers and Bengals. Baltimore will face a total of four 2005 division winners.

"Obviously, like all schedules, it's tough," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose team has a bye in the seventh week after a week 3 break last year. "The balance of it seems to be good. There are a few challengers in there, but it will certainly be interesting."

Four of the Ravens' games against the AFC North are in the final six weeks of the season. It's a much a different sequencing compared to last year when the Ravens were already out of playoff contention and couldn't catch up with only one division game in the final five weeks of the season, which ended with a loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Five of the most challenging games are in the middle portion of the schedule, an eight-game stretch that features encounters against the Broncos, who made the AFC title game, the Carolina Panthers (Oct. 15), who made the NFC title game, the Bengals (Nov. 5 and Nov. 30) and the Steelers (Nov. 26). The Ravens' 2006 opponents had a combined win-loss record of 95-97 in 2005.

"We are happy with the spread of the schedule," Ravens team president Dick Cass said. "The fact that we only have one set of back-to-back road games [Cincinnati on Nov. 30 and Kansas City on Dec. 10] is beneficial for us.

"It's a challenging schedule, particularly because we play two very strong divisions in the NFC South and AFC West, but also we have a later bye week than usual, which will help our players. We're pleased to have two national games even though they are both away."

The Ravens' home opener is against the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 17, and their first divisional game is Sept. 24 at Cleveland. There's a fairly long lag between division games with Baltimore not playing an AFC North opponent again until Nov. 5 when it hosts Cincinnati.

The Ravens weren't scheduled for the new Sunday night package to be unveiled on NBC, but could potentially be included under the NFL's new flexible scheduling rules if they're competitive again after missing the playoffs for the past two seasons.

The league has the option of changing kickoff times for games between weeks 10 through 17 with the exception of week 16. Twelve days prior to the Sunday night games, the league will decide which games will be moved along with which games might be shifted to 4:15 kickoffs.

For the final week of the regular season, the decision can be made on six days notice as the NFL will try to arrange a Sunday night game with playoff implications. The Ravens are hoping they'll be involved in that type of football game a year removed from a season marred by injuries to defenders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and usually shaky play from quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright.

"I think we're going to be a very good football team," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "If we can stay healthy, which we didn't do last season, we're going to be very competitive. We're working very hard to be a winning team again."

BALTIMORE RAVENS COMPLETE 2006 SCHEDULE

Sept. 10 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 p.m.
Sept. 17 Oakland Raiders 1 p.m.
Sept. 24 at Cleveland Browns 4:05 p.m.
Oct. 1 San Diego Chargers 1 p.m.
Oct. 9 at Denver Broncos 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Oct. 15 Carolina Panthers 1 p.m.
Oct. 22 Bye
Oct. 29 at New Orleans Saints 1 p.m.
Nov. 5 Cincinnati Bengals 1 p.m.
Nov. 12 at Tennessee Titans 1 p.m.
Nov. 19 Atlanta Falcons 1 p.m.
Nov. 26 Pittsburgh Steelers 1 p.m.
Nov. 30 at Cincinnati Bengals 8 p.m. (NFL Network)
Dec. 10 at Kansas City Chiefs 1 p.m.
Dec. 17 Cleveland Browns 1 p.m.
Dec. 24 at Pittsburgh Steelers 1 p.m.
Dec. 31 Buffalo Bills 1 p.m.

 

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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