(Photos courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)
By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
The Baltimore Ravens are off to a disappointing start.
But, in hindsight, it’s not that surprising of a start.
Not with the schedule the NFL assigned the Ravens.
The Ravens took Super Bowl aspirations into the 2015 season and rightfully so. Baltimore is among the NFL’s elite. Since John Harbaugh became head coach in 2008, the Ravens have qualified for the playoffs six times, captured a pair of AFC North titles, reached three AFC title games and won a Super Bowl.
The Ravens advanced to the playoffs as a wild card in 2014 with a 10-6 record and then upset AFC North-champion Pittsburgh in the opening round. With a past Super Bowl MVP at quarterback in Joe Flacco, the Ravens were, on paper, among the AFC favorites in 2015.
Except that the NFL scheduled the Ravens on the road each of the first two weeks of the season. NFL teams win on the road only 43 percent of the time — so a split, at best, would be a realistic expectation.
Except that the NFL sent the Ravens across the country to play the season opener against the Denver Broncos. Then in the second week, the NFL assigned the Ravens an even more distant trip — to Oakland. The Ravens opted to stay on the West Coast in between games, living out of a suitcase and practicing in unfamiliar surroundings. NFL teams are creatures of habit, and the routine of the Ravens had been compromised.
Baltimore wound up losing both games — the start of a downward spiral that now finds the Ravens 1-5 and at the bottom of the AFC North.
The Ravens aren’t alone in their misery. The NFL also scheduled Detroit and Seattle two road games apiece to start the season. Like the Ravens, the Lions and Seahawks were playoff teams a year ago and Super Bowl aspirants in 2015. The Lions were coming off an 11-5 season, and the Seahawks were the defending NFC champions.
But the Lions and Seahawks also lost both of their road games for 0-2 starts to their seasons, and neither has been able to pull out of their downward spiral. The Lions are now 1-5 and the Seahawks 2-4.
In 2014, the New Orleans Saints carried Super Bowl aspirations into the season after an 11-5 finish in 2013. But the NFL scheduled New Orleans to play its first two games on the road. The Saints lost both and went into their own downward spiral that produced a 7-9 finish.
In 2013, it was the Minnesota Vikings who were defeated early by their schedule. The Vikings were coming off a 10-6 wild-card finish in 2012 and expected to take the next step in 2013. But they were assigned games at division rivals Detroit and Chicago to open the season, lost both, and went into a tailspin that left Minnesota in last place in the NFC North with a 5-10-1 record.
Pro football is a game of momentum. You build it with success. Failure sends a team in the other direction.
So if I was the NFL schedule maker, I’d assign every team one home game and one road game in the first two weekends. That would give them all an equal chance to start the season on a positive note. If you lose those first two road games and then lose your home opener in that third week, as both Baltimore and Detroit did in September, your season is doomed and your fan base knows it.
So as the NFL schedule maker, I wouldn’t stack anyone’s schedule. Giving a team two home games to start a season is an unfair advantage … just as giving a team two road games to open the season is an unfair disadvantage.
That’s common sense. But that doesn’t always apply to the NFL office.