Nothing flashy on Ravens' schedule

2006 slate features 2 prime-time games, later-than-usual bye


A year after they expected to contend for the Super Bowl and drew four prime-time TV assignments, the Ravens have been bumped to a back burner.

Their 2006 schedule, announced yesterday, delivered nice balance, no ominous three-game road binges, and a delicious sprint to the finish through the AFC North. But it offered only two prime-time games and neither will land at M&T Bank Stadium.

Consider it still more fallout from a 6-10 season that unraveled with injury and innuendo last year.

"To be expected," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of the team's fall from television grace.

The Ravens will play a Monday night ESPN game in Denver against the Broncos in Week 5. They travel to Cincinnati to take on the AFC North champion Bengals in a Thursday night game on the NFL Network in Week 13.

But barring a change in schedule, the Ravens will not appear on the league's new Sunday night showcase game on NBC this season. For the first time, the league has the flexibility to switch starting times for games in Weeks 10 through 17, excluding Dec. 24, to facilitate better prime-time matchups for NBC.

Aside from that omission, though, there was little to quibble over in the Ravens' schedule. They will play back-to-back road games only once this season, and because one of them is the Thursday night trip to Cincinnati, they'll have nine days to prepare for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Also, after getting stuck with a Week 3 bye last season, the Ravens get their break in Week 7 this year.

There was one curiosity for Billick, however. It has the Ravens playing a home game against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 26, and playing in Cincinnati four days later in the Thursday night game.

"The fact we would play a Sunday-Thursday combination - both in division - is a little odd," Billick said. "Normally a Thursday game, they don't put in division. That's an awfully important game to be putting one team on the road on a Thursday. That's an awful short week."

Those two games are in the middle of what might be the toughest four-game stretch of the season. Starting with the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 19 and ending with the Chiefs on Dec. 10, the Ravens potentially will stare down four of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL - Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Trent Green - in consecutive games.

In a statement issued by the team, Ravens president Dick Cass called it a challenging schedule, "particularly because we play two very strong divisions in the NFC South and AFC West, but also, we have a later bye week than usual, which will help our players."

Other highlights of the schedule:

After opening on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 10, the Ravens will play three of their next four games against AFC West teams - the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Broncos.

They visit Tennessee on Nov. 12, and the big question is which uniform current Titans quarterback Steve McNair will be wearing. McNair, who has a salary cap number of more than $23 million this season, has refused to restructure his contract and has been banned from the team's practice facility. He could wind up in Baltimore.

The Ravens play seven games against 2005 playoff teams. Five of those games come in the middle eight games of the schedule. "The hard part with that analysis [is], you don't know what those teams are going to be," Billick said. "What looks to be a tough run of playoff teams could end up the next year not being that."

Thirteen games are scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff, pending changes under the new flexibility rule. A Sept. 24 date in Cleveland against the Browns is the only 4:05 p.m. kickoff on the schedule.

Ravens' 2006 schedule

Sept. 10 @Tampa Bay 1 p.m.

Sept. 17 Oakland 1 p.m.

Sept. 24 @Cleveland 4:05 p.m.

Oct. 1 San Diego 1 p.m.

Oct. 9 @Denver 8:30 p.m.

Oct. 15 Carolina 1 p.m.

Oct. 22 Open date

Oct. 29 @New Orleans 1 p.m.

Nov. 5 Cincinnati 1 p.m.

Nov. 12 @Tennessee 1 p.m.

Nov. 19 Atlanta 1 p.m.

Nov. 26 Pittsburgh 1 p.m.

Nov. 30 @Cincinnati 8 p.m.

Dec. 10 @Kansas City 1 p.m.

Dec. 17 Cleveland 1 p.m.

Dec. 24 @Pittsburgh 1 p.m.

Dec. 31 Buffalo 1 p.m.

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