Can Ravens take advantage of schedule?

Can Ravens take advantage of schedule?
October 25, 2013, 10:45 am
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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) scrambles to avoid the tackle by Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (92) during the first half at M&T Bank Stadium.

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Here is one reason for Ravens fans to be optimistic. The Ravens’ upcoming schedule looks favorable.

Four of their next six games are at home, including a three-game home stand against the Jets (Nov. 24), Steelers (Nov. 28), and Vikings (Dec. 8). Most NFL teams don’t get three-game home stands. The Ravens haven’t played three straight at home since 2003.

What the Ravens do with the next six games will go a long way toward deciding their fate. Here’s a mini breakdown of the Ravens’ next six-pack:

1. Nov. 3 at Cleveland – The Ravens have won 11 straight against the Browns, who are now hoping Jason Campbell can solve their seemingly endless quarterback issues. If the Ravens (3-4) lose this game, their season could get really ugly. But a victory would get the Ravens back to .500, with four of the next five at home.

2. Nov. 10 vs. Cincinnati – This looks like a must win for the Ravens, who already trail the Bengals (5-2) by two games in the AFC North. Winning the division is critical this season, because second place might not be good enough for a wild card spot. The Ravens play the Bengals again in the regular season finale at Cincinnati (Dec. 29), a game that could have huge playoff implications. But before the Ravens think that far ahead, they need to win this game – badly.

3. Nov. 17 at Chicago – So much will depend on whether Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (groin tear) is back by then. The Bears have said Cutler will miss a minimum of four weeks. Cutler hopes to return sooner. How much does it matter? The Bears are 2-6 without Cutler since he joined them in 2009.

4. Nov. 24 vs. Jets – Although they have been a pleasant surprise, the Jets (4-3) start a rookie quarterback in Geno Smith. The Ravens have already lost to one rookie quarterback this season, Buffalo’s E. J. Manuel. If you lose to two rookie quarterbacks in the same season, it probably means you are not a playoff team.

5. Nov. 28 vs. Steelers – Beating their rivals on Thanksgiving night would send the Ravens into December with momentum, and 10 days before their next game. Losing twice to the Steelers this season would be potentially devastating.

6. Dec. 8 vs. Vikings – If you saw the Vikings (1-5) on Monday night, you know their offense looked terrible. Expect the Ravens to key on Vikings running back Adrian Peterson as soon as he steps off the bus. This is a game the Ravens should be heavily favored in.

There you have it. The next six games represent a critical stretch for the Ravens. But it’s also a golden opportunity.