Ravens open '99 on road

Team visits St. Louis, then plays host to Pittsburgh, Cleveland

April 02, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The Ravens will open their 1999 NFL season on Sept. 12 at St. Louis, followed by two straight AFC Central home games against Pittsburgh and Cleveland, two of 10 division games the team will play this season.

Because the Ravens finished fourth in the division last season, the team received a favorable schedule that includes only four teams involved in postseason play last season.

The Ravens have seven games against teams that had losing records a year ago, five against teams that had winning seasons, two against the expansion Cleveland Browns and two against the Tennessee Titans, who were 8-8.

Jacksonville, Buffalo, New England and Atlanta are the four teams on the Ravens' schedule that made the playoffs last season. Atlanta lost to the Denver Broncos, 34-19, in Super Bowl XXXIII.

"Every coach would like to open up at home, but I'm used to playing on the road," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "For six or seven years we opened up on the road in Minnesota because of the Twins schedule. But it's something I'm used to. Baltimore fans won't get to see a home game until Sept. 19, but that's something that can't be helped.

"It's a good schedule, one that has some interesting twists and turns, but no different than from what any other team had to deal with throughout the league."

Said Ravens owner Art Modell: "It's a balanced schedule. I like the home opener against the Steelers. Our rivalry with them is intense, and there has been a great fan energy in our stadium for our first three home games against them."

The Ravens opened their new stadium last season with a 20-13 loss to the Steelers.

Billick, who replaced Ted Marchibroda in January, likes the bye week coming on Oct. 17, sandwiched between a road game against Tennessee and a Thursday night, nationally televised home game vs. Kansas City. The break comes after the fifth game and in between two of the more physical defensive teams in the league.

"It's not bad the way the bye fell," said Billick. "What I like is there is no two-week layoff between games. There is only a 10-day separation, and the bye comes at the right time. It gives us some extra time to get ready for a quality team in the Chiefs and then gives us another longer period to prepare for the Bills, a playoff team."

The month of November and the first two weeks of December will be a critical stretch for the Ravens. Nov. 7 marks the return of Modell's franchise to Cleveland for the first time since leaving nearly four years ago. It's also the beginning of a stretch of six straight division foes, highlighted by games against Jacksonville on Nov. 14 and Nov. 28.

No team in the division has owned the Ravens more than Jacksonville, which is favored to win the division for the second straight year. The Jaguars have added safety Carnell Lake and tight end Kyle Brady during the off-season. The Ravens/Browns are 0-8 lifetime against the Jaguars, losing two games last season by scores of 24-10 and 45-19.

"I've been through this before," said Billick. "Playing Jacksonville in that situation is, well, interesting. Usually there are about four to five games played before you face an opponent again. But playing them [twice in three weeks], you use up your bag of tricks in one game and then have to find another approach a week later."

The Ravens conclude the stretch on Dec. 12 on the road against the Steelers, who swept the Ravens in two games last year.

"That whole stretch is going to be a concern for us," said Billick. "It will be pivotal."

The regular season will carry over into 2000. The Ravens play the last game on Jan. 2 in Foxboro, Mass., against the Patriots.

"It will be the same as traveling on Thanksgiving or Christmas or at any other time," said Billick. "At that point of the season you are oblivious to any other day except game day."

Modell said: "We'll be tested in November with three straight road games, but we do finish the season with two out of three at home."

Note: Tickets for the Ravens draft day party, to be held April 17 at the new stadium, are on sale at Ticketmaster outlets and the Ravens' ticket office at 200 St. Paul Place. The draft party starts at 11 a.m., and the team expects more than 10,000 fans for the five-hour event. Admission is $10, $4 for children 12-and-under and $7 for PSL holders, who have already purchased 5,000 advance tickets. Free parking will be available on lots B, C, F, G and H. Proceeds benefit the Ravens Foundation for Families.

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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