Originally written on fanspeak.com  |  Last updated 4/24/13

On Monday, I broke down and offered my predictions for the first half of the Baltimore Ravens 2013 schedule. Today, I offer up the second half.

The Ravens own the fifth toughest strength of schedule heading into the 2013 season. Nevertheless, the toughest part of that schedule, at least according to the wins and losses of their opponents from last season is yet to come. During the first half, Baltimore played just three teams that made the playoffs last season but did play five games on road.

This means the second half of the 2013 schedule will be played predominantly at M & T Bank Stadium, where under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have a .825 winning percentage losing just seven times in five years.

I had Baltimore opening the season with a loss to Denver before rebounding 10 days later to win three in a row, including a ruining of Ed Reed’s homecoming with a victory over the Houston Texans in Week three. Following a win at Buffalo, I foresee the Ravens traveling to Miami and showing Dannell Ellerbe what he could have been a part of had he stayed in the Charm City, with a close win in South Florida.

I then have the Ravens hitting a bit of snag. I predicted Baltimore would enter the bye week losing back-to-back games to the Packers at home and Steelers in Pittsburgh. What ails any Ravens losing streak is always a game vs. the Browns. This season will be no different, as the purple and black regroup following the bye week with a win and sixth consecutive sweep of the Cleveland Browns, to finish the first half with a 5-3 mark.

The combined record of the teams Baltimore played in the first half for last season was 67-61 (.523) and while that is nothing to shake your head at, the second half, at least on paper, poses a bit more of a challenge. During the final eight games, Baltimore’s opponents strength of schedule record for 2012 was 70-58 (.546).

The Ravens will play four games (2 vs. Cincinnati) against three playoff teams and the Bears, who won 10 games last season but did not qualify for post-season play. Some quick highlights of the second half shows that two coaches will face a Ravens team that have strong Baltimore ties. The first made his coaching name in Baltimore and the other grew up there and attended Mt. Saint Joseph High School in West Baltimore.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and the NY Jets visit on Nov 24 and although NY will not be bringing their cornerback island with them, Sexy Rexy is sure to have his troops fired up and ready to play. Baltimore will then travel to Detroit, who finished a disappointing 4-10 last season and are coached by Jim Schwartz.

Schwartz grew up In Baltimore and can still be seen rocking out to the Baltimore based 80’s hair band, KIX. He knows everything there is about places Hammer Jacks. His favorite baseball team is the Orioles and he even still talks with that endearing” Bawmer” accent “Hon”.

The Ravens, who faced the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year in Week 3, when JJ Watt visited with the Texans, will host the 2012 NFL MVP in early December, when “All Day” Adrian Peterson comes to play.

In addition, who could forget that M & T Bank Stadium will once again host the largest dessert night in America on the fourth Thursday in November when the Steelers come to town for some pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving night. 

If that’s not enough for you, how about an AFC Championships game rematch for the second consecutive season in Baltimore, as the Patriots close out the 2013 home portion of the schedule when Tommy Boy and Co. come calling three days before Christmas.

The suspense is killing me, as to how these games will turn out, so here are my predictions for the Ravens second half schedule:

WEEK 10 RAVENS VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

NFL experts predict that the Bengals will challenge for the AFC North crown next season and it may be hard to argue against them. Head Coach Marvin Lewis finally has his foundation up front on the defensive line, as the Bengals return all four starters from the best defensive line in the AFC North.

Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko will wreak havoc in the division. Cincy also has solid depth in Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry at the ends. There are young inside with Brandon Thompson and Devon Still, both of whom were drafted a year ago.

The problem may be at linebacker where James Harrison and not Karlos Dansby was signed-- typical Cincinnati if you ask me. The signing is puzzling when you factor in Harrison's declining sack total (six last season), injuries (seven games missed due to injuries the past two seasons) and age (he turns 35 next month). He has never played in a 4-3 defense and he has been on the field for 77 percent of his team’s defensive snaps since the start of the 2011 season, which ranks 56th among linebackers over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Cincinnati could not possibly be a playoff three years in a row could they. Maybe, Nahhhh---not with Mike Brown still running the show. They are good enough to earn another season series split with Ravens but playing in Baltimore on this day means a mark in the loss column.

The Ravens, who have won four of the last five contests against the Bengals, losing only last season’s finale when the second and third stringers came into play after the first and second series of the game, make it five out of six as they pull away late with a victory and a 6-3 record.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 27 CINCINNATTI BENGALS 17

RAVENS RECORD 6-3

WEEK 11 NOV.17 RAVENS AT CHICAGO BEARS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

A game that was once billed as Ray Lewis vs. Brian Urlacher, the Monster of the Midway vs. the team that sports uniform’s the color of a deep bruise, will now see the marquee read, “Joe Cool and the Super Bowl Champion Ravens travel to the Windy City to take on Jay Cutler  and the Chicago Bears”.

Lewis is at ESPN and Urlacher is still looking for a team for next season, so this contest is likely to be a showdown and The Soldier Field Coral between two gunslingers at quarterback.

While many like or are Luke warm to the Bears offseason, I think it stinks. Naming a former CFL head coach (Marc Trestman) to the same post in the NFL to replace Lovie Smith, who won 10-games in 2012, is not an upgrade.  Chicago overpaid for left tackle Jermon Bushrod and while I know he is a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, the Jay Cutler “does not have enough weapons or protection” arguments are getting old fast.

Cutler was sacked 38 times in 2012. That was fifth most in the NFL but, take a look at the production for the other 4 NFL quarterbacks that were sacked more often. Aaron Rodgers (51), Phillips Rivers (49), Andy Dalton (46) and Andrew Luck (41) were all on their bottoms more often but three of the four managed to make the playoffs. I know it is tough to win 10 games and miss the playoffs but after starting the season 7-1 and finishing 3-5, the QB has to take a good portion of the heat, especially when your defense was responsible for most of the seven wins to start the year.

I honestly expect the Bears to a mess at this point. This game represents a stretch of six games that see “Da Bears” play the Packers, Lions, Rams, Vikings and Cowboys.  If Flacco can beat Manning in zero degrees with 30 mph winds in Denver in January, then he should expect to win the shootout in Chicago vs. a disgruntled Jay Cutler on the third Sunday in November.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 33 CHICAGO BEARS 24

RAVENS RECORD 7-3

WEEK 12 NOV.24 BALTIMORE RAVENS VS. NEW YORK JETS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

The Ravens will return home for a critical stretch drive that sees them play four of their final six games in the Charm City. The first will be against an old friend, former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and his NY Jets.

Have you ever heard that if you cannot locate the sucker at a poker table you are the sucker, well the same can be said of the Jets schedule.  If you cannot find the weak link on your schedule, then chances are your it and the Jets are indeed the weak link for many teams this season.

It is entirely possible that Sexy Rexy will not even be the Jets head coach at this point. With NY having Revis Island towed down the Atlantic, up the Gulf of Mexico and into Tampa Bay, the Jets may be lucky to win four games this season.  Quck….name me two players from each side of the ball besides Mark Sanchez for the Jets. Can’t do it can ya. This should be a nice way for the Ravens to kick off the stretch drive. The biggest concern for the Ravens in this one will be staying healthy. The Steelers come to town just four days later to play on Thanksgiving night.

The Ravens are 7-1 vs. the Jets in franchise history.  Their only loss came back in 1997 during the Ravens second season in Baltimore. Ryan is 0-2 vs. his former team, losing 34-17 in his return trip to Baltimore in Oct. 2011. This will not be close but the Ravens win with class, something the Jets organization has lacked recently. Flacco and company will have their way and the defense is facing Mark Sanchez, enough said.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 27 NY JETS 3

RAVENS RECORD 8-3

WEEK 13 NOV.28 RAVENS VS. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8:30 P.M NBC)

For tolerating the Orioles unwillingness to work with the Ravens, so they could celebrate their Super Bowl victory in a Week 1 contest with Denver at home, the NFL has rewarded the great fans of Baltimore with Ravens-Steelers II on Thanksgiving night.

Unless you are the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, playing on Thanksgiving is usually a once in a generation deal. Not so for the Baltimore Ravens, who hosted Harbaugh Bowl I two seasons back on Thanksgiving night when the San Francisco 49ers were thumped at M & T Bank Stadium.

While that game was fun and carried a ton of sentimental value, this contest will be all about knocking the “stuffing” out of each other.  The wild card in this contest is where Pittsburgh will be at this point in the season.

The Steelers have a very manageable schedule and only five teams play a softer slate in 2013 than does Pittsburgh. However, this is the NFL and with all of their off-season losses, it is hard to imagine Big Ben and company actually contending for a division title but they are the Steelers and that’s probably right where they will be.

I have Pittsburgh taking the first contest at the big ketchup bottle on the three rivers, so even at 8-3, this could be necessary win for the Ravens. I never head into any game vs. any team, much less Pittsburgh, thinking or even believing the Ravens will blow them out (except the Jets) but the Ravens have done it before and I feel will do it here.

This will not be a three-point game, as so many before this one has been. The Steelers walk into M&T Bank Stadium thinking they are a lot better than they are and can only watch as a Ravens team begins to come together, as they always seem to do when it matters most in the season. Outplaying Big Ben is no longer an issue for Joe Cool, as the Ravens win for the fourth time in six games vs. their archrivals to gain a split in the season series. Not only do they win but they do so in convincing fashion.

RAVENS 34 PITTSBURGH STEELERS 10

RAVENS RECORD 9-3

WEEK 14 RAVENS VS. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

The Ravens stay right in the friendly confines of the Big ATM to host last year’s league MVP and the Minnesota Vikings. The Ravens will get a real good idea of how far their run defense has come in this contest for obvious reasons. Stopping All Day Adrian Peterson will be the key and in the words of former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick, “you can’t stop Peterson, you can only hope to contain him”. I expect the Ravens to do just that.  I believe the Vikings will not be a playoff team this season and by this time, head coach Leslie Frazier could be firmly on the hot seat.

The Vikings play the fourth toughest road schedule in the league next season and will be towards the end of a stretch of games that will have seen them play in order the Giants, Packers, Cowboys, Redskins, Seahawks, Packers and Bears before visiting Baltimore. This is no easy task and it is likely the Vikings will be beat up a bit or trying to fight for their playoff lives.

If somehow Minnesota is sitting pretty at this point, then QB Christian Ponder has developed into a top-notch passer and that to me is unlikely. I like the Ravens but I do not think it will be easy. Even if Frazier is on the hot seat, they play hard for him and will do so in this contest but the Ravens will prevail for win number 10.

RAVENS 23 MINNESOTA VIKINGS 17

RAVENS RECORD (10-3)

WEEK 15 RAVENS AT DETROIT LIONS (8:40 P.M. ESPN)

The Ravens will look to even their all-time Monday Night Football record at 9-9, with a victory in the Motor City vs. the Lions. The problem is, I do not think it happens.

Head Coach Jim Schwartz is again likely to turn around a squad that finished 4-12 last season and have them knocking on the door of at least a Wild Card berth at this point.  This team has too many weapons not to succeed and the addition of Reggie Bush in the backfield cannot hurt.

What the Lions need to be a better team, Thursday’s NFL Draft has in abundance. The Lions need help on the offensive line and could use a defensive end. There are players in this draft the Lions could have starting for them next season if they have done their homework, which I would like to think a Baltimore raised blue collar boy, Jim Scwartz, has done.

I am calling it now, if the Lions draft well, they will push the Packers for the division title and they will need this game more than Baltimore will at this point. The Ravens beat Detroit badly in Baltimore back 2009. Ray Rice rushed for 166 yards and added another 59 receiving. They will need another big time performance from him to win this game.

At 10-3, the Ravens appear ready to clinch their sixth straight playoff appearance. In fact, for the second consecutive year, the Ravens will clinch a playoff spot on this weekend, despite losing to the Lions. Calvin Megatron Johnson, Matt Stafford and Reggie Bush will be a little too much for the Ravens on this night.

Detroit Lions 27 Ravens 17

WEEK 16 RAVENS VS. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (8:30 P.M. NBC)

For the second consecutive year, the Ravens and Patriots will hook up in an AFC Championship game rematch. There are no longer any secrets between these two teams. They are officially rivals and while it may not be Patriots-Jets or Ravens-Steelers, this game has become one of the must see on the NFL schedule.

Last season the Patriots held halftime leads on the Ravens in both of their games only to watch Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense score a combined 38 second half points to go 2-0 vs. Tommy Terrific in 2012. That has never happened during the Brady-Belichick era to the Pats.

The Week 3 contest last season, which the Ravens won 31-30 on a controversial last second Justin Tucker field goal, will forever be remembered as the game when Torrey Smith returned to the team to play following his brothers tragic death during the early morning hours on game day.

Of course, who could forget the Ravens win in New England in the AFC Title game. On the arm of Joe Flacco and the concentration of Anquan Boldin, the Ravens scored 21 unanswered points and shutout the top offense in the league during the second half to win 28-13 to advance to Super Bowl XLVII.

The Patriots would like to forget but they only way to bury that demon is to win in Baltimore. You can believe the evil genius of Bill Belichick will pull out all of the stops to ensure that happens.  N.E. will be out for revenge and be possibly trying to lock up a bye week with a win in Baltimore.

The team they could likely be battling for one of those byes could be the Ravens. The Pats have not had a great offseason and another surgery to TE Rob Gronkowski’s arm, his fourth, does not bode well for Tom Brady’s high-powered offense, which needs to find another wide receiver.

Brandon Lloyd is gone and Wes Welker is now in Denver. Brady’s favorite target (Welker) has been replaced by a player many called a “poor man’s Wes Welker”, Danny Amendola. The draft is going to be big for the Pats but they only have five total picks. However, starting with the 29th pick, they have three selections within a span of 63 picks (29, 59 and 91) with which to do some damage. The Patriots do not currently own any picks, in rounds four through six but have the 20th and 29th picks of the seventh round.

While I believe the Patriots are playoff bound once again in 2013, it will not be because they are so much better than everyone else is during the regular season. This playoff run could strictly be a byproduct of getting to play six games within their own division this season.

The Ravens and Patriots along with a select few other franchises are considered cream of the crop run organizations. Even with all of the losses in Baltimore, I think the Ravens are a better team and in a better position from an organizational standpoint. Including the playoffs, the Ravens will win their third straight over New England in what promises to be a high scoring affair.

Ravens 38 New England Patriots 31

RAVENS RECORD 12-3

WEEK 17 RAVENS at CINCINNATTI BENGALS (1:00 P.M. CBS)

This game could mean nothing to the Ravens, or it could mean everything. If the Raves are indeed 12-3, then another win could lock up a No.1 seed for the first time in franchise history and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I expect the Bengals to be fully engaged in a battle for one of the two Wild Cards spots, which makes this a high stakes game for both teams.

With that said, there is a big difference between needing to win a game to make the playoffs and needing to win a game to play all of your playoff games at home. If you do not believe me, just ask the Houston Texans, who watched the No.1 seed slip away last season in Week 17 because having already locked up a playoff spot and at least one home playoff game could not get motivated enough to beat a division rival on the road to finish the season.

I think the Bengals scenario gives them the edge in this one and the fact they are at home cements the deal in my mind that Cincy wins the game.

Relax Ravens fans; didn’t the boys lose in the “Natti” to close out last season as well?  

CINCINNATTI BENGALS 24 RAVENS 20

For the third time in four seasons, the Baltimore Ravens will finish the season 12-4 and in doing so win their third straight AFC North championship. Unlike the NY Giants last season, the Ravens will have an opportunity to defend their Super Bowl title.

Because the Ravens accomplished this with what amounts to essentially a new defense, in terms of faces---- and after trading away Anquan Boldin, John Harbaugh will be the NFL Head Coach of the year-----and deservedly so.

RAVENS FINAL REGULAR SEASON RECORD 12-4

Please be sure to join Stephen Shoup and myself on the Fanspeak Radio Network tonight through Saturday night for all of your 2013 NFL Draft needs. Tonight, (9:30 p.m.) Stephen and I will deliver our final first round mock drafts as well as any NFL Draft news and notes.

Tomorrow, we will start our NFL Draft coverage the same time as the Draft begins at 8:00 p.m. We will stay on the air until 11:00 p.m. breaking down every pick and trade made. We will do the same Friday and on Saturday, we will have a three hour draft wrap-up show that will start a half hour following the final pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.

If you have not already done so, please be sure to download the 2013 Fanspeak NFL Draft Guide, available for free right here on Fanspeak.com.

 

 

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