By Darin J. McCann
The Baltimore Ravens know their schedule…
If the National Football League has one special power it holds above all others, it is a remarkable ability to generate enthusiasm for its product. Winter or summer, spring or fall, the NFL has a Kardashian-like ability to produce conversation, spur controversy and outperform real-life issues in the ratings department.
From the postseason to free agency, on through the draft and mini camps, the NFL at least temporarily steals attention from politics, war and global pandemics with a social-media-fueled attack on the senses, sparking interest in their largely autumnal product during all phases of the calendar year.
While still warming ourselves in the afterglow of the recent rookie draft, the league dropped its 2021 schedule with fanfare often dedicated to a royal wedding, even though the opponents and fields of battle for all 32 teams were already determined long ago. Herein lies the elegance of the modern-day NFL — they can assign dates to something that people already know, and spark interest and attention to keep them in the public eye at all times.
They have basically taken baseball’s “hot stove league” and relegated it to the status of a leaky microwave caked in old nacho cheese and gummy bears.
So, yes, there wasn’t a whole lot “new” in the NFL’s schedule release, outside of locking down some dates for travelers or dedicated Ravens fans setting wedding plans, but it did generate more enthusiasm. And it did create a setting where we could look at each game as the rosters and injury situations stand today, and have a little fun simulating the 2021 Ravens season. Without further ado, let’s dive in:
The Baltimore Ravens first stretch of games
Week 1, at Raiders
The Monday-night tilt will feature an electric atmosphere in Las Vegas — because it’s, you know, Las Vegas. Unfortunately for the home team, the Raiders field the kind of defense an elite offensive team can take to the wood shed. To be fair, an average team can have a “season” kind of game against the Raiders. Let’s be honest: Stoney Case would have a field day against this defense.
Ravens 38 Raiders 20
Week 2, Kansas City
Two games, two prime-time matchups against the AFC West. Unfortunately, the Chiefs will not be the Raiders. They will be the Chiefs. I do feel better about the Ravens’ chances this season because of their new receiver corps, and another year of playing together for the defensive line, but, until proven otherwise, the Chiefs do own this team. The Ravens will fight. So, I guess they have that going for them?
Chiefs 33 Ravens 24
Week 3, at Lions
The Lions are the kind of team you’d like to see if you’re a proud franchise and you just got the stink beaten off you on national television. The guess here is JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards combine for 225 yards on the ground, Mark Andrews brings in a pair of touchdowns and Jared Goff is physically 3 inches shorter than he was when the game started. The hay will be in the barn early.
Ravens 41 Lions -2 (Dan Orlovsky will accidentally wander on the field via the back of the end zone, resulting in a loss of two points for Detroit.)
Week 4, at Broncos
The Broncos have a solid coaching staff and a roster that looks competitive at just about every position. Except quarterback. That one’s kind of important.
Ravens 24 Broncos 13
The next batch of games
Week 5, Colts
Another big one under the lights for the Ravens, and they are facing another well-built team with some question marks at quarterback. If Carson Wentz can rediscover his game under the tutelage of Frank Reich, the Colts can win this game. I don’t think he will. The Ravens move to 4-1 with a tough win.
Ravens 23 Colts 20
Week 6, Chargers
This one confuses me. The Chargers should be much improved, and quarterback Justin Herbert appears to have the right stuff. They should really give teams all they can handle this season, and I could see them giving the Ravens a really tough game. But, still… you just kind of wait for the other shoe to drop with this team. Justin Tucker is the difference here.
Ravens 33 Chargers 27
Week 7, Bengals
Remember when the Ravens just could not get out of their own way against the Bengals? That Mike Zimmer defense would tie up Joe Flacco in knots, and AJ Green seemingly went for 294 yards each game, only taking a break long enough for Tyler Eifert to kick in the Ravens’ teeth. Remember that? Yesterday is not today.
Ravens 44 Bengals 16
Week 8, Bye
The Ravens enter the bye with a shiny 6-1 mark, their only blemish being another pounding by the Chiefs. Couple injuries heal. A small trade happens. The squirrel population outside Ben Cleveland’s house drops. All is good in Byeville.
Vikings, Dolphins, and Bears…Oh my!
Week 9, Vikings
It wasn’t that long ago we were chatting about what Mike Zimmer defenses used to do to the Ravens. Different teams, my friends. This feels like a “Jackson 5” game, with Lamar Jackson tossing four touchdowns, running for another and rookie Rashod Bateman reminding the Minnesota fans who he is with two touchdown catches.
Ravens 38 Vikings 27
Week 10, Dolphins
The Ravens have dominated Miami over recent years, and though Miami is ascending, do we doubt that this trend will continue? Yes, yes I do. Coming into this game with a 7-1 record, I see the Dolphins defensive backs causing trouble for the offense, and their big-play receivers making just enough plays to give the Dolphins the win.
Dolphins 23 Ravens 16
Week 11, Bears
Andy Dalton or Justin Fields? Sure, it matters, but not enough to change the outcome of this game. The Ravens get back on track against Chicago, flipping more turnovers than a baker… sorry, that joke was only going to get worse. Ravens win. By a lot.
Ravens 38 Bears 13
The home stretch
Week 12, Browns
This is the first of two heavyweight games between these teams, and I’d be surprised if either one is a blowout. The teams know each other well, and this will be a big game in determining the division champion. Lamar Jackson avoids fiber, Gus Edwards batters away against some fast linebackers and the Ravens do enough to win this one at home to move to 9-2.
Ravens 24 Browns 20
Week 13, at Steelers
The Steelers have lost talent in their defense and their offensive line is questionable — not to mention that Big Ben’s arm looked about as imposing as an over-steamed spear of asparagus as last season came to an end. Regardless, it’s Pittsburgh, and it’s at their house. Steelers steal one.
Steelers 20 Ravens 16
Week 14, at Browns
This last stretch of the season is pretty brutal, and the Ravens drop their second in a row here at Cleveland. It’s always hard to rebound after a physical game with Pittsburgh, and Cleveland is tough enough without that.
Browns 30 Ravens 23
Week 15, Packers
Yet another cakewalk, right? Aaron Rodgers (presuming he’s still a Packer) comes into Baltimore for a premier showdown with Jackson, and the Ravens’ tough stretch will continue as Christmas nears.
Packers 37 Ravens 30
Week 16, at Bengals
Joe Burrow has the makings of a franchise quarterback. I mean, we think so, right? The Bengals also have a terrific receivers’ unit. Here’s the problem. The Ravens have great corners and drive young quarterbacks to consider new careers. The Baltimore Ravens get right here, and move their record to 10-5.
Ravens 38 Bengals 16
Closing it out on the Baltimore Ravens regular season
Week 17, Rams
This was that extra game for the 17-game season, and unfortunately, Aaron Donald is still on this Rams team. The Baltimore Ravens ran them out of the building in that magical 2019 season, but that was two years ago, and the Rams had Jared Goff at quarterback. I like the Rams here, to be honest.
Rams 27 Ravens 20
Week 18, Steelers
You are cordially invited to The Big Ben Retirement Bash at M&T Bank Stadium. Lamar Jackson figures out his Steelers issues and puts up four total touchdowns and 350 yards of offense, and Marcus Peters catches the last touchdown pass of Roethlisberger’s career. Oh, and here’s another prediction: Peters lets him know about it.
Ravens 37 Steelers 13
Ravens finish 11-6 and make the wild card.