Ravens, Steelers to square off in prime time

OWINGS MILLS -- The NFL evidently liked what it saw from the Baltimore Ravens during their sudden, unpredictable ascent to the AFC title game last season as the league schedule-makers designated them for a trio of prime-time games this season.

The game immediately being circled on Baltimore football fans' calendars is a Nov. 29 rematch against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, a featured Sunday night game on NBC against the AFC North rival that dispatched the Ravens from the playoffs for their third win last season over Baltimore.

The Ravens haven't played a prime-time game against the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium in six seasons.

The Ravens, who rebounded from a 5-11 finish in 2007 to make the playoffs last season behind rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, first-year coach John Harbaugh and a stingy defense, were also tabbed for two prime-time Monday night road games. Those prime-time games are against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 16 and the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 7.

"We like the schedule, especially for our fans," Ravens team president Dick Cass said in a statement. "Seven of our eight regular-season home games are scheduled for 1 p.m. And we know the fans will be excited to have the Steelers come here for a prime-time game."

The Ravens received an advantageous bye of Oct. 25 during the seventh week of the NFL schedule. Last year, Hurricane Ike caused the postponement of the Ravens' game against the Houston Texans and essentially cost them their bye week as they were off during the second week of the season.

"Our bye comes at a good time in the season," Cass said.

Baltimore launches its regular-season schedule at home Sept. 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are coming off a franchise-worst 2-14 season that cost coach Herm Edwards and general manager Carl Peterson their jobs and ushered in the Todd Haley-Scott Pioli regime.

The Ravens' first AFC North game is against the Browns, a Sept. 27 home game. The Ravens swept the season series with the Browns last season.

During the second half of the season, the Ravens have an opportunity to build on their strong home record during a span of four of five home games against the Indianapolis Colts, Steelers, the Detroit Lions, who went 0-16 last year, and the Chicago Bears scheduled around a road trip to Green Bay.

The Packers went 6-10 last year following a messy divorce with quarterback Brett Favre. Since 2000, the Ravens have the second-best home record in the league with a 52-20 mark in Baltimore.

The Ravens face a tough stretch of road games against the explosive, reigning AFC West champion San Diego Chargers (Sept. 20), the New England Patriots (Oct. 4), who get quarterback Tom Brady back under center after he was sidelined last year with a knee injury, and the defending NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings (Oct. 18). The Vikings are spearheaded by a fierce defensive line headlined by pass rusher Jared Allen.

The Ravens' final two regular-season games are both on the road, pitting them against the Steelers on Dec. 27 and the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 3.

The date of the Raiders' game puts a lot of time between the Ravens' other West Coast trip against the Chargers.

"We knew who we were going to play, and the schedule now gives us date we can target," Harbaugh said in a statement. "Our focus since the end of last season is to keep finding ways to get better.

"That's what we're doing now. We'll be ready when the regular season starts against the Chiefs, and we'll keep working hard so that we'll be even better when December comes."

NOTE: Starting Nov. 22, every Sunday game is subject to change under the league' flex scheduling system.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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