Let’s be honest. The NFL’s schedule release always feels like a bit of a letdown.

The opponents on Baltimore’s slate have been known for a long time. The Ravens have known, for example, that they have the second-toughest schedule (by last year’s winning percentage) on the docket, in what could be again the NFL’s most difficult division.

Even so, Wednesday night had to feel somewhat deflating. They have an especially difficult set of circumstances, with the latest possible bye week, a wildly tight window of three December games and unusual scheduling for a majority of the season (they play just seven games at the 1 p.m. Sunday timeslot, a consequence of being one of the league’s most exciting teams).

Even though we knew so much before the official schedule was released, we learned a lot more about how the 2024 season lays out for the Ravens.

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Lamar Jackson will get early feedback in the MVP race against his primary competition

The Ravens’ first month pops off the schedule, not just for the level of contenders — Kansas City, Dallas and Buffalo among them — but who is slinging the ball. Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott and Josh Allen each finished in the top 7 of MVP voting behind Jackson and are likely to be in the mix again this season. They’ll all get a shot at Baltimore, and a chance to outshine the reigning MVP, in September.

Jackson is traditionally strong to start the season, with a 13-7 record in September anchored by 30 passing touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. After setting career highs in passing yards, completions and completion percentage last season while coming just a vote shy of a second unanimous MVP, we’ll see how a notably slimmer Jackson translates going into his second year in Todd Monken’s offense.

It will also be a huge test for defensive coordinator Zach Orr, filling the shoes of Mike Macdonald without key difference makers from last year’s unit (Patrick Queen, Jadeveon Clowney). The Ravens contained the Chiefs fairly well in the AFC Championship game in January — it was the offense that didn’t get the job done. But can you slow down Mahomes twice in a row? It’s only the starting point for a very, very tough slate of signal callers for the 31-year-old first-time coordinator.

The offensive line will get a trial by fire, too

OK, so the quarterbacks stand out in the first month. But so do the pass-rushers: Kansas City’s Chris Jones, Las Vegas’ Maxx Crosby, Dallas’ Micah Parsons, Buffalo’s Ed Oliver. These are elite players at their respective positions, adding to a slate that already pits the Ravens’ rebuilt offensive line against Cleveland’s Myles Garrett and Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt twice.

Are you ready for the NFL, Roger Rosengarten? Are you ready for primetime, Daniel Faalele and Ben Cleveland? By letting three starters go (if you count that Morgan Moses was traded), Baltimore is putting a ton of faith in internal development, an approach that will be subject to immediate referendum.

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Their biggest offseason free agent, Derrick Henry, may not need the best offensive line to be one of the NFL’s rushing leaders, but it will certainly limit the splash he makes as a Raven if he can’t find a lane to plow through.

Getting to the bye week will be a slog

Circle Week 14 now. The Ravens will be staring at that longingly for three months of the season. It’s when their bye — the latest the team has had in 24 years, according to ESPN — finally arrives (and they’ll still have their most demanding stretch after, which we’ll get to in a bit).

If you assume that the Ravens will be limping into the bye at that point, it’s tough to imagine it getting harder than this slate: at Pittsburgh (where Baltimore has lost three of the last four meetings), an emotional family reunion in L.A. against the Chargers (Joe Hortiz, Greg Roman, Gus Edwards and Ben Mason revenge game?) and at home against the Eagles (who won 11 games last year).

The Ravens endured injuries last season, still coming up win an AFC-leading 13 wins. Critically, Jackson was able to stay healthy. One wonders if the investment in Henry helps Jackson repeat that feat. But 13 games in a row is a big ask for the Ravens to keep its best players on the field, especially after key players like Mark Andrews, Ronnie Stanley, Marcus Williams and Marlon Humphrey all missed significant time last season.

Three games in 11 days doesn’t square with player safety

Congratulations on getting to your bye, Ravens. After your well-deserved rest, you’ll play three games in 11 days!

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For all the effort that Roger Goodell and NFL owners have put in to try to convince the public that they do care about player safety, when it comes to the bottom line, choices like these show their true colors. The Ravens are one of the few teams who get a brutal 11-day stretch, with back-to-back short weeks playing Saturday, Dec. 21 against the Steelers and Wednesday, Dec. 25 against the Texans. I’m sure John Harbaugh is relishing going against Mike Tomlin and DeMeco Ryans — two coaches known for gritty, physical defenses — with just three days of rest in between.

There is a slight bonus: The Ravens will enjoy a padding of 16 days of “rest advantage” against their 2024 opponents, theoretically making them less banged up than the teams they’re facing. ESPN reports this is the largest rest advantage margin since 2002. But that will hardly be a comfort in the dog days of December, when Baltimore could still be fighting for a playoff spot on minimal rest themselves.

Goodell has recently touted the idea of an 18-game schedule and doing away with most (if not all) of the preseason. The only way someone entrusted with safeguarding the NFL could make the case for more games with less rest in between is the understanding that it translates to even more revenue for the already embarrassingly rich league — and a casual disregard for injuries.

The NFL is a meat grinder, always finding another player to step up when someone else gets hurt. Leagues like the NBA have made strides for fewer back-to-backs and less stretches of four games in five nights. The NFL will put their players at risk to hit an opportune scheduling window — truly a league of compassion. Remember this the next time the commissioner talks about how much the NFL cares about its players’ well-being.

Be prepared to sign up for myriad streaming services

Two years ago, Harbaugh joked that his parents were at risk of missing the Ravens game for the first time in his head coaching tenure because Baltimore was making its debut on Amazon Prime. Come Christmas, the Harbaughs — and everyone else who wants to watch — had better hope for a Netflix subscription under the tree.

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The Ravens are one of the NFL’s most featured teams this season with five primetime games, including two Monday Night Football matchups. They also have four late afternoon games in which they’re likely to be the best matchup. But that comes with an annoying asterisk: They’ll be on six different channels or platforms this season, including a Thursday game on Amazon Prime and the Wednesday Christmas game on Netflix. Hope you have all your subscriptions lined up.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix paid the NFL $150 million to broadcast Ravens-Texans and Chiefs-Steelers on Christmas, a hefty sum that cuts to the heart of how badly content platforms want live sports. The playoff game on Peacock last season drew 2.8 million sign-ups for the NBC digital service.

But this strategy is undeniably hostile to viewers, who now have to subscribe for one-off games to see the full slate this season. It’s not enough that it costs hundreds of dollars on average to attend a live NFL game — the league is making it more costly to watch all the games in your living room.

Chalk it up to another thing Goodell and the owners probably don’t care about as long as the streaming giants keep filling up their pockets.

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum.

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