1. Ravens at Broncos, September 5 – The Ravens don’t get the honor usually bestowed upon every defending Super Bowl champion by opening up at home on Thursday night, but this should be a terrific rematch of the best NFL game played last season. These two went toe-to-toe in the second round of the playoffs, with the “Mile High Miracle” helping to carry the Ravens to the AFC title game and, eventually, a Super Bowl title. Peyton Manning and Co. will be out for revenge, but the Ravens have Elvis Dumervil on their side this time around. This game could be a factor in terms of homefield advantage in the postseason, but that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves.
2. Steelers at Ravens, November 28 – The Ravens host a game on Thanksgiving night for the second time in three years, this time drawing the rival Steelers. While Pittsburgh seems to be on the decline, the nationally televised matchup still features the Ravens biggest rival and possibly toughest foe en route to another AFC North title. The Ravens, despite winning the division and the Super Bowl last year, are still smarting from losing at home to Pittsburgh with Charlie Batch starting at quarterback. Expect Baltimore to exact some revenge.
3. Packers at Ravens, October 13 – Green Bay features arguably the league’s top quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, which means yet another test for Joe Flacco to see if he can earn some more respect by leading the Ravens to a victory. This game could very well turn into a shootout, especially with the game likely being played in ideal conditions considering its spot on the calendar. Ironically, the last time the Packers were in Baltimore, it was a frigid December night that was one of the coldest home games in Ravens history.
4. Patriots at Ravens, December 22 – The Ravens, after giving so many games away to the Patriots over the year, really seem to have their number of late. The Ravens beat New England twice last year, including a beatdown in the AFC championship game. Given all of the offseason activity, this game has lost some of its punch as a rematch of the AFC championship. Is there anyone left on either team who actually played in last year’s game? The Ravens lost a number of key veterans while the Patriots have taken some major hits. Wes Welker is a Bronco, Rob Gronkowski’s future is unclear after back surgery and a number of operations on his arm, and Aaron Hernandez is in some serious legal trouble. Poor Tom Brady. The Patriots will really have their work cut out for them this time around. Is this the beginning of the end for the Patriots decade dominance in the AFC?
5. Texans at Ravens, September 22 – The Ravens and Texans have quite a history over the past several seasons despite not even playing in the same division. The Ravens have gotten the upper hand in most meetings, though the Texans embarrassed them last year in what was Terrell Suggs’ first game back from a torn Achilles tendon. This game not only could have major playoff and homefield advantage implications, but features the return of Ed Reed to Baltimore. I’m sure Reed will be welcomed back with open arms by the fans, at least until the opening kickoff.
Honorable mention: Ravens at Bengals, December 29. Many are predicting the Bengals will win the division this year, and with these two teams slated to meet in Cincinnati in the final week of the regular season, this could determine the AFC North champion, homefield advantange and who makes the playoffs and who gets left out.