The 16 opponents for the Ravens in 2020 as well as the home/road location of those games were all a function of the 2019 season and the NFL’s rotational schedule.
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 (0 for all teams). With international games canceled in 2020, there is no differentiator for London (0).
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 consecutive Thursday games in weeks 12 and 13 at the Steelers then at home vs the Cowboys. A Thursday home game is a significant advantage, but the Ravens lose some of the value by playing the Cowboys who will be coming off their own Thanksgiving game, something we must include in the subjective adjustment. Playing a road divisional game after a Sunday game is one of the largest possible schedule disadvantages as well, but must also be handled in the subjective adjustment (+3).
Opponents playing on Thursday the prior week (None +3, -3 for each such opponent in excess of 1): Incredibly, the Ravens play 3 teams coming off a Thursday game, the Texans in week 2, Titans in week 11, and Cowboys in week 13. Said otherwise, the Ravens will face 3 playoff hopefuls coming off mini byes (-6).
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 Chiefs in week 3 and at the Browns in week 14. The subsequent games are 1 home/1 road. The extra MNF game is to be expected after their outstanding 2019 season, but it’s a scheduling disadvantage (-2).
Opponents playing MNF the prior week (None -2, +2 for each such opponent in excess of 1): The Ravens play the expected 1 game against a team coming off a Monday night game, the Patriots in week 10 (0). It’s nice to have this game with a potential AFC playoff rival, but not worthy of a subjective adjustment.
Bye week (actual week of bye -9): The average bye week crept up to 8.69 in 2020 (8.56 in 2019). I continue to use an average of 9 for 2019 schedule scoring, which creates a small negative bias of -.31 per team. The Ravens have their bye in week 8 (-1). They follow the bye with a road game at Indianapolis.
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. For the first time in years, the Ravens have no games against teams coming off their byes. Without this offsetting factor, the Ravens would have one of the worst scheduling disadvantages in the league. With it, their schedule is only slightly more difficult than average. Despite the fact the Ravens are 2020 beneficiaries, 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)?
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 road Thursday game against the biggest divisional competitor is a significant detriment. Would it be a better system to have all Thursday games be interconference to minimize the playoff impact? The Ravens play the following week on Thursday vs Dallas (who also plays on Thanksgiving). That nullifies some of the value of playing a home Thursday game. I’m trying to be conservative about the aggregate valuation of these negatives (-4).
All of that nets to -3 in a league where the average is slightly below 0.
Strictly from the perspective scheduling equity (the when), of the coming season, the Ravens have a more difficult schedule than any team in the division other than Cincinnati. More on that tomorrow.