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Four games to watch in 2019 for the Baltimore Ravens

Four games to watch in 2019 for the Baltimore Ravens

For a day with very little impact on how the upcoming NFL season will play out, schedule release day generates a lot of interest in fan bases across the NFL.

It makes sense. Football runs the world, and fans are desperate for any information they can get. By mid-April, we’re all tired of hearing rumors about the top prospects to be selected in next week’s draft, and the schedule announcement allows us to imagine the possibilities coming in the fall. Every fan today projects their team to go somewhere between 9-7 and 11-5.

We’re certainly not immune to the excitement that comes with the schedule announcement, even if we already knew the matchups. Let’s take a look at four games to watch in 2019 for the Baltimore Ravens.

Week 4 at home vs. Cleveland Browns, September 29, 1:00 p.m.

The Ravens won’t have to wait long to get a chance to see the new-look Browns up close. Cleveland will come to Baltimore at the end of September, in the middle of a brutal three-game stretch for the Ravens. As the lone home game sandwiched between road trips to Arrowhead Stadium and Heinz Field, this will be a crucial matchup.

The Week 17 game last season was an epic clash between rookie quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson, and the two looked poised to battle it out for AFC North supremacy in the next decade.

Cleveland looks even better after a busy offseason capped by the acquisition of Odell Beckham, Jr. to pair with Jarvis Landry in the receiving core. Freddie Kitchens certainly has plenty of toys to play with in his offense and will provide a compelling matchup against the historically strong Ravens defense.

Whenever the Ravens got their first look against the suddenly-favored Browns, it was going to be a big deal. Coming in the first month of the season makes it all the more exciting.

Week 9 at home vs. New England Patriots, November 3, 8:20 p.m. (Sunday Night Football)

M&T Bank Stadium is going to be *rocking* for this one.

Not that anyone in Baltimore needs extra incentive to get up for a matchup with the hated Patriots, but this game has a few factors going for it. 

The Ravens will be coming off a bye week, so fans will be ready to see some football again. They also have a somewhat manageable start to the season, meaning both teams should have decent records heading into this clash.

It also helps that this is the lone Sunday Night Football matchup scheduled for the Ravens in 2019. And, of course, the Patriots are yet again the defending Super Bowl champions.

This is the first time since 2013 the Ravens will get to host the most dominant team of this era, and it comes in prime time. It’s safe to say every football fan in Baltimore has this one circled on the calendar.

Week 12 on road at Los Angeles Rams November 25, 8:15 p.m. (Monday Night Football)

The other three selections on this list were obvious. The fourth could have gone to either the Chiefs in Week 3 or the Rams in Week 12. The Rams have a bit of an advantage, not only because they are coming off a Super Bowl appearance, but also because the Ravens already played the Chiefs late last season.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Rams game comes in prime time, as the Ravens’ only Monday Night Football matchup of the season. 

What really swayed it to the Rams is the reunion with Eric Weddle. The safety provided great leadership both on and off the field in Baltimore, and though he will ultimately be remembered as a Charger, his impact in Baltimore was profound.

Now he’s patrolling the middle of the field in Los Angeles, and the Ravens will have to match wits with their former “coach on the field” safety. 

Week 17 at home vs. Pittsburgh Steelers December 29, 1:00 p.m.

Come on, you didn’t think we were going to leave out the Ravens hosting the Steelers, did you?

For the first time in a while, neither matchup between these AFC North rivals is scheduled for prime time. It seems like an annual meeting on Sunday Night Football is a requirement for these two.

But while it’s not scheduled currently, no one would be surprised to see a close division race leading to NBC flexing this game into the final slot of the NFL’s regular season.

Even if it doesn’t happen, it’s nice to see the Ravens see their biggest rivals in the final game of the season, rather than the Bengals and Browns as has happen so often recently.

Antonio Brown may be out in Pittsburgh, but as long as Ben Roethlisberger is in town, this will make for a tough matchup, and Ravens fans will get to look forward to a 16-week build up before this slobber-knocker.

To see the Ravens' full 2019 schedule, click here.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

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If Steelers fans are allowed into Heinz Field this season, they'll have to wear a mask

If Steelers fans are allowed into Heinz Field this season, they'll have to wear a mask

If fans are permitted to attend Pittsburgh Steelers home games this fall, there's one item they can't forget: a mask.

Steelers' director of communication, Burt Lauten, explained the decision to require fans to wear a mask in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere," Lauten said, via ESPN. "We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games."

Pittsburgh was one of the first franchises to alter its ticketing plans this season, as they decided in May to trim half of their individual game ticket sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The news comes just hours after their AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens, announced that M&T Bank Stadium will be capped at less than 14,000 fans this fall, should fans be allowed to attend games.

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In June, The Athletic reported that the NFL will not place a limit on capacity at games, allowing each individual team to make the decision themselves.

"Attendance will be a state-by-state, county-by-county thing," an anonymous NFL source told The Athletic. "It will not be a one size fits all."

Additionally, the NFL has said that the first 6-8 rows of lower bowl sections, including field-level suites, will be blocked off this fall to help slow the spread of the virus. Those sections will be covered with tarps, which teams can use to sell advertising, similarly to what the Premier League in England has done.

With training camp still a few weeks away, there are a lot of virus-related questions the NFL must answer beforehand.

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Stephen A. Smith and ESPN poll leave Lamar Jackson out of top four quarterbacks

Stephen A. Smith and ESPN poll leave Lamar Jackson out of top four quarterbacks

Despite his 2019 MVP season, many NFL experts still aren’t convinced that Lamar Jackson is the league’s best.

In a debate with Domonique Foxworth on ESPN’s First Take on Monday, Stephen A. Smith shared his top-five quarterbacks in the NFL, slotting the reigning MVP fifth overall. 

Two days later, ESPN released a poll conducted with 50 NFL personnel to rank the top 10 quarterbacks in the league this season. Jackson was ranked sixth behind Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Drew Brees.

But after the record-breaking season the Ravens quarterback had –– a performance that earned him the league’s top individual honor –– how can so many still doubt his ability to succeed?

Smith cited two faults of Jackson’s game to justify his claim –– passing inability and playoff performance.

“There was a guy that ran the football very, very effectively, matter of fact as a quarterback led the team to have one if not the top-rated run attacks in football,” Smith said. “That would happen to be Tim Tebow when he was with the Denver Broncos. But what did I repeatedly say about my friend? He couldn’t throw the football at the NFL level. I never believed it, and that was a problem.”

Smith referenced Tebow’s rise and fall in the NFL and credited his inability to find longevity as a starting quarterback to his inconsistent and inaccurate arm –– something Jackson similarly struggles with.

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The Ravens led the league in rushing offense and ranked second in total offense but earned just the 27th spot in passing offense. Jackson ranked eighth in completion percentage among all quarterbacks but first in rushing yards and sixth in rushing yards among all players. For Smith, this discrepancy does not warrant Jackson a top-two quarterback spot.

“No one can run the football like Lamar Jackson. Nobody,” Smith said. “Not at the quarterback position in the NFL. We know that. That’s just on another level. But in terms of throwing the football, even though he’s had his moments, and he definitely improved in accuracy in terms of completing 66 percent of his passes last season, I don’t think he can throw the football like Deshaun Watson.”

Smith referenced Watson and a number of other quarterbacks higher on his list like Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees and praised their accuracy, leadership and veteran play, which earned them the spots ahead of Jackson.

In addition to the issues with Jackson’s arm, Smith also believed his playoff performance holds him back. Jackson posted an 0-2 record in his first two playoff performances, falling to the Chargers in 2018 and the Titans in 2019. 

Overall in his career, he completes 63.7% of his passes and posts a 4.66 TD/INT ratio. On the other hand, during the playoffs, he completed 51.1% of his passes and posted a 1.0 TD/INT ratio.

As Smith noted while he did improve from a 48% completion rate to 52% in the playoffs this year, he will not reach an elite level of play until he can perform in the postseason.

While Smith was certainly skeptical of Jackson’s ability to succeed in the league long-term, he still understood the hype.

“I’ll tell you this though, he is top-two box office. He might even be number one.”

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