Be Careful What You Wish For

March 25, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

The Ravens Should Have Demanded To Play The Opener In Pittsburgh Instead of Ducking It


You can’t apologize for your schedule in professional sports, and trying to pick your opponents can always be a dangerous proposition. The Ravens seemed to teach that lesson to the Dallas Cowboys last season, closing out their building on a sour note, but maybe in the course of teaching that lesson, the Ravens never actually learned it themselves.


Having had to play at Pittsburgh on Monday night in 3 of the last 4 seasons, the Ravens, according to various media sources have apparently made requests to the NFL to keep that from happening again this season. Depending on which report you consult, the Ravens either asked not to play a primetime, nationally televised game in Pittsburgh, or asked specifically not to be featured there in the NFL’s opener on Thursday September 10th.


The request is a reasonable one, given the recent history of the rivalry, but until the full schedule is released, it remains to be seen whether or not it was actually even honored. They definitely managed not to get the opener there, as the league has already announced that the Steelers will host the Titans in that opener, but when the Ravens will play there is as yet unannounced.


As a fan, I am used to complaining about the schedule. I sit on the sunny side of the stadium, so Sundays at 1 o’clock are always my favorite. I know though, that many fans enjoy the luster of primetime games, and I don’t disagree with that stance either, I just prefer that the primetime games be on the road, or early in the season when the weather is still nice. Actually, my preference is whatever works best for the team; they have to play the games after all. I’d rather the schedule work out to the teams liking, hoping that it would translate into better play. Hopefully before making their request to the league, the organization checked to see if that was how the players felt too.


And as I mentioned earlier, trying to make such requests is always dangerous. You play the schedule that’s laid out for you, and let the chips fall where they may. The Ravens have lots of reasons to be concerned about their schedule in comparison to the Steelers’, but whether or not they play there in primetime shouldn’t be one of them.


The Ravens will draw the Colts and Patriots this season as a second place divisional finisher, in comparison to the Steelers who’ll get the Titans and Dolphins. That’s probably a concern, although not one that they could likely do anything about. They could have asked the league to look though, at how the AFC West schedule is divided, and asked the NFL to fix that.


In the current format, when your division matches up with the AFC West, you either host the Chiefs and Broncos, or the Chargers and Raiders. Since coast-to-coast travel has proven so difficult for NFL teams over the years, there’s a significant advantage to be had under that formula. The Ravens, this season will have to travel to the west coast to play both San Diego and Oakland, and will have Denver and Kansas City make much shorter trips to play in Baltimore. The Steelers will only have to travel to the Midwest, to Denver and KC for their AFC West road games, and will face the Chargers and Raiders with the added benefit of them having traveled coast-to-coast to get there.


Asking the league to pair Denver with one of the California teams, and Kansas City with the other makes sense for everyone. Asking the league to keep the Ravens game at Pittsburgh out of primetime makes sense for the Ravens, and only the Ravens. Since the league seems to like showcasing this rivalry, complying with the Ravens request would almost certainly mean that the game here would be in primetime. It would also leave the team looking much like the Cowboys did last season, if the Steelers swept the Ravens again anyway.


Actually, the Ravens may have missed the boat entirely with their request to the league. Most believed that the Ravens at Pittsburgh in the opener was a no-brainer. It’s already one of the league’s fiercest rivalries, and has been deemed worthy of primetime 3 of the last 4 seasons, but this year it also has the added caveat of being a rematch of the AFC title game. What better way for the league to start the season? Come to think of it, what better way for the Ravens to start the season too?


Like it or not, Thursday night football is here to stay. The league is making money off of it, and more importantly they’re pimping their network with it too. The quick turnaround between games can be a nightmare for teams, especially road teams. And the league has been pretty forgiving of this too; not giving teams more than 1 Thursday night game per season. With a Thursday opener in week one, Thursday night games from weeks 10 through 16, and the 2 traditional Thanksgiving games, the NFL will stage 10 Thursday night contests this season. Given the fact that they were in the AFC title game last season, it’s a safe bet that the Ravens will be in one of them. It’s also a safe bet that the Steelers or Titans won’t be asked to play another one after their week one kickoff.


Instead of ducking the Steelers in primetime, the Ravens should have asked for the opener in Pittsburgh. They could have used the fact that they’ve been forced to go there in primetime so often, as a reason to promote it instead of trying to opt out. They could have spent the back end of their training camp getting ready for their most important rival, and taken care of their Thursday night obligation without having to deal with the turnaround of a short week as a result. They’d also get a 10-day week to prepare for their second game of the season and recover from what’s traditionally a brutal game. And they’d get their trip to Heinz field out of the way early, before the filed turns to the notorious mush and the cold winds began swirling.


There’s still a chance that the Ravens could go up there and beat the Steelers too. Although their record may not indicate it, some of the Ravens’ best, most over their heads performances have come at Pittsburgh in primetime. If the Ravens get their way, and still go to Pittsburgh and lose, what would they have accomplished?


If they went up their and won, to start the season, they’d set the tone for the season early. Even if they lost, the benefits in getting the game out of the way early, extra early, are numerous. Instead the Ravens may have set themselves up, much like Jerry Jones apparently did against them last season. If you’re going to try and pull a favor, it’s best to be sure that it will help. In this case it may do just the opposite.