September schedule makes quick start imperative

September schedule makes quick start imperative
June 29, 2014, 8:45 am
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The Ravens are the only NFL team that will open the season facing three straight division opponents. They host the Bengals (Week 1) and Steelers (Week 2) before visiting the Browns (Week 3).

Will that unusual quirk in the schedule be good or bad for the Ravens?  Starting 3-0 would make them the early-season favorite in the AFC North. Starting 0-3 would be a potential disaster, putting them in a hole from which it would be difficult to recover. The Steelers’ 0-4 beginning cost them dearly in 2013, as they missed the playoffs despite winning eight of their last 12.

The probable suspension of running back Ray Rice adds another dimension to the Ravens’ schedule in September. They may have to rely on their other running backs – Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett, and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro – during those first three games. Pierce is coming off shoulder surgery, Forsett has been primarily a reserve during his career, and Taliaferro is unproven.

September is too early to be called a make-or-break month, but teams rarely open with three straight divisional opponents. Clearly, the upcoming season is one in which the Ravens cannot afford to start slowly.

[MORE: Ravens hope to improve Flacco's pass protection]