- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Good news, bad news: As every Ravens fan knows by now, the Ravens open the season with three games against AFC North teams. If you're an optimist, you're going to point out that the Ravens are 13-5 in divisional games the past three seasons. That's tied for fifth best in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. If you're a pessimist, you're going to focus on the fact that the Ravens have lost five of their last eight division games.
Early-season playoff test: The Ravens have six games against 2013 playoff teams, and three of them come in the first five weeks of the season. The Ravens open the season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, play host to the Carolina Panthers in Week 4 and then travel to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5. While the Bengals and Colts are favored to win their divisions again, the Panthers are expected to take a step back after losing wide receiver Steve Smith and left tackle Jordan Gross. In comparison, six of the Pittsburgh Steelers' first seven games are against non-playoff teams.
Road stretch: The toughest part of the Ravens' schedule is playing four road games in five weeks, a stretch that begins in October. For the past two seasons, the Ravens have gone on the road four times in a five-game span, but there was a bye week somewhere during each stretch. The last time the Ravens had to play four road games in five weeks was 2008. The Ravens went 4-1 in that tough series of road trips.
December gift: The Ravens wrap up the regular season at Miami, home against Jacksonville, at Houston and home against Cleveland. This is the easiest December schedule for any team, based on last season's records. Those four teams combined to go 18-46 (.281) last season. The Ravens are 14-11 in December since coach John Harbaugh arrived in 2008.
Late bye: The Ravens' bye comes in Week 11, their latest in 13 years. In 2001, the Ravens' bye fell in Week 13. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have never had a bye later than Week 8. It's the exact opposite for the Bengals. Cincinnati has its bye in Week 4, which is tied for the earliest of any team. What's the best part of the timing of the Ravens' bye? They get an extra week to prepare for their game at the New Orleans Saints.
Extra rest factor: When looking at how the byes fall, only the Tennessee Titans have a bye before playing the Ravens this season. The only other situation where a team will have more rest than the Ravens is in late November, when the Ravens play Monday night at New Orleans. But the Ravens' next opponent is the San Diego Chargers, who have to fly cross country to Baltimore. So, the fact that the Ravens are playing on one less day of rest is somewhat negated. In December, the Ravens get that same extra day of rest against the Miami Dolphins, who play at the New York Jets on Monday night the week before facing Baltimore.