Of the Ravens 2021 schedule, 16 of the opponents and the home/road location of those games were a function of the 2020 season and the NFL’s rotational schedule. The Ravens also had a 17th game added, at home, against the Rams.
That means most complaints about who and where the Ravens must play should fall on deaf ears.
What we can debate is the relative difficulty of schedules based on the when factor.
Some of you are probably familiar with my scoring system for scheduling fairness, but let’s review:
An ideal scoring system for schedule fairness should be normalized to league averages, so we’re not just counting how many times our team got an unfavorable scheduling break, but comparing to the normal number of times an average team is screwed. To that end, I’ve tried to have each category work out close to 0 aggregate points for the league. I can’t quite make that work, but there is no egregious bias from 0.
What are the primary categories and how did the Ravens do in terms of “when” this year?
Playing in London (-10 for a home game, -2 for a road game, +2 for no game there, +2 if bye follows London game): The Ravens do not play in London in 2021 (+2). Unfortunately, no other AFC North team plays there either, so they have no relative advantage in division.
Playing on Thursday (+3 for a home game, -3 for a road game—excluding week 1 or after a bye, +3 for a 2nd Thursday game): The Ravens play a single Thursday game at Miami in week 11 following a Sunday home game vs the Vikings in week 10. A Thursday road game is a significant disadvantage, but at least it is not a division opponent (-3).
Opponents playing on Thursday the prior week (None +3, -3 for each such opponent in excess of 1): The Ravens do not play any opponent coming off a Thursday game. That is their biggest single relative scheduling advantage in 2021 (+3).
Monday Night Football (no appearances +2, each appearance in excess of 1: -2, home game following MNF +1, road following MNF -1, bye following MNF +2): The Ravens play 2 MNF games versus the Raiders in Week 2 and Colts in week 5. The subsequent games are both at home, however, which provides some relief. The extra MNF game is a disadvantage, but to be expected for a high-quality team and the advantage of home games in each following week puts the Ravens in what I score as an average situation relative to other NFL teams (0).
Opponents playing MNF the prior week (None -2, +2 for each such opponent in excess of 1): The Ravens play Detroit in week 3 and Pittsburgh in week 18, both of which will be coming off a Monday night game (+2). If the game in week 18 has playoff implications, it may be a solid advantage to have the Steelers playing on a short week.
Bye Week (actual week of bye -10): The average bye week is now 9.75 in 2021 (8.69 in 2020) with the expansion to 17 games. I will use an average of 10 for 2021 schedule scoring, which creates a small negative bias of -.25 per team. The Ravens have their bye in week 8 (-2). They follow the bye with a home game vs the Vikings.
Opponents coming off a bye (None: +7, -7 for each in excess of 1): There are 32 teams and 32 byes to be assigned. Each team should play exactly 1 team coming off a bye. It’s that simple and amazingly easy to schedule in that manner with the use of all divisional games following byes. The Ravens have 2 games against teams coming off their byes, the Bears in week 11, and the Browns in week 14. Facing a divisional opponent coming off a bye is worse than playing a game on the road on Thursday night. I still don’t understand why the NFL has chosen not to address this specific scheduling inequity, when it’s relatively easy to do so (-7).
Extra home game (all teams 0): In 2021, the entire AFC plays an extra home game, so playing 9/17 should slightly increase the expected win totals, but it does not create a scheduling advantage for playoff purposes. Unless they change the method by which these games are selected to be other than alternating home conference/opponents by season, I don’t see a reason why the extra home game will influence the playoff race (0).
Subjective adjustment (-5 to +5 for other elements not considered here such as torturous travel not implied by opponents/location, long road trips, and team-specific weather considerations). Playing a rested Browns team in week 16 after facing Cleveland and Pittsburgh the previous 2 weeks is a significant playoff detriment not fully captured by the post-bye score. However, as an offset, the Ravens play the Steelers at home coming off their week 17 MNF game versus the Browns, which could have consequences for the divisional or wild card race. I’m trying to be conservative about the net of these factors (-2).
All of that nets to -7 in a league where the average is slightly below 0.
Strictly from the perspective scheduling equity (the when), the other divisional schedule scores are Cin (+17—they have no negative schedule factor among those above), Cleveland (+12), and Pittsburgh (-8).