With the 1st third of the NFL season under our belts, it’s time to reflect on where the Ravens stand in the AFC North. Below is a color coded chart of each AFC North team’s schedule over the first five games. The color scheme uses the current DAVE measure as an estimation of opponent difficulty. DAVE combines preseason projections with the current performance of the team. The colors range from very easy (dark green) to average (yellow) to very hard (dark red). Bye weeks are denoted by a lack of coloring. Several caveats apply to using DAVE as a the sole metric of team performances. These include a relatively small sample size and a lack of consideration of home field advantage. However, DAVE is a narrative measure and it enables easy color conversion.
The Ravens and Bengals have played the most difficult schedules thus far in the AFC North. The Ravens faced off against three traditionally difficult opponents (Pit, Ten and NYJ) while the Bengals unfortunate fate of facing the unexpectedly formidable Bills and 49ers. Despite Pittsburg early troubles the DAVE measure believes in them. The system ranks the Steelers #4 team in the NFL behind only the Packers, Bills and Patriots. The Ravens come in at #6 in the Dave ratings. The system sees Baltimore’s defense as #1 in the league but has serious questions about the Ravens ability to move the ball on offense resulting in a #23 rank. As we noted last week, it seems safe to write off the Browns for 2011. They have had the easiest schedule and sit at the bottom of the division.
Now, let’s take a look at the next 5 games for each team and see what lies ahead.
Barring significant injuries it should be pretty easy sledding through the second third of the schedule for the Ravens. Three of the next five games are against particularly weak opponents (JAC, ARI, SEA). Of those three the only one I could envision being close is the game on the road against the Seahawks. Its also worth noting that the Ravens division schedule is particularly unbalanced. In the first 10 weeks of the regular season the Ravens will play two division games, both against Pittsburgh. However, in the final six weeks the Ravens will play four division games, two games against the Browns and two games against the Bengals. The Steelers appear to have the most difficult games going forward, especially in weeks 8 and 9 with back-to-back match-ups against the Patriots and the Ravens. Fortunately for Pittsburgh (unfortunately for the Ravens), both of these games will be played at Heinz Field. Barring an excellent run by the Bengals it appears the AFC North will end up as the usual two team race between the Ravens and the Steelers. Given their half game lead and easier middle stretch of the schedule the Ravens seem to be in the pole position, however leads against Pittsburgh have been lost before.