NFL Nation: M&T Bank Stadium
The Patriots, winners of nine straight, will host the Baltimore Ravens Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. This year is proving to be extremely difficult to win on the road in the postseason. Only the New York Giants upset the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field.
As usual, New England has been dominant at Gillette Stadium. Including playoffs, the Patriots are 8-1 at home. Their only home loss was to the Giants.
The Ravens are familiar with Gillette Stadium and will not be intimidated. Baltimore made three trips to Gillette Stadium since 2009 and played well in all three meetings. New England won two of three, but the Ravens beat the Patriots in the playoffs following the 2009 season.
But this year the Ravens have been inconsistent away from home. They defeated playoff teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) and Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) on the road. But Baltimore also lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) and Seattle Seahawks (7-9) away from M&T Bank Stadium.
The criteria was to vote for the toughest venues for opposing teams. So what about M&T Bank Stadium?
I voted the home of the Baltimore Ravens No. 8. It's a loud and raucous environment and one of the few stadiums which cheers its defense more than its offense. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis gets the crowd hyped early with his pregame dance that I like to call the "Ray Lew."
I talked to two veteran NFL players last week about stadiums and both mentioned M&T Bank as one of the toughest venues to play. The Ravens were 7-1 at home last season and 13-3 the past two years. Still, M&T Bank Stadium was ranked No. 13 and only received four votes from our panel.
Was Baltimore snubbed in this week's Power Rankings? Share your thoughts in our new comments section below.
Here is the full tally:
ESPN.com's stadium Power Rankings
1. Lambeau Field
2. Heinz Field
3. Qwest Field
4. Arrowhead Stadium
5. Solder Field
7. Gillette Stadium
9 (tie). Lincoln Financial Field
9 (tie). Oakland Coliseum
Walker's stadium Power Rankings
1. Lambeau Field
4. Heinz Field
5. Arrowhead Stadium
6. Gillette Stadium
7. RCA Dome
8. M&T Bank Stadium
9. Qwest Field
10. Georgia Dome
For the past month, the most memorable play in Baltimore Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson's season was a controversial touchdown he allowed to receiver Roddy White in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
But Wilson made up for that play Monday night with a game-winning pick-six to lead the Ravens to a 34-28 overtime win over the Houston Texans. He read Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, caught the interception in stride and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown. The play propelled Baltimore to a 9-4 record and negated an embarrassing second-half collapse where the Ravens blew a 21-point lead.
Wilson was acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks and the move has paid dividends. He began as a backup, then eventually replaced Fabian Washington in the starting lineup. Wilson has 37 tackles and three interceptions for Baltimore this season.
The Ravens have some concerns, particularly with their recent play in the fourth quarter. But Wilson's big interception allows Baltimore to search for answers while coming off a victory.
The Ravens will play host to the pass-heavy New Orleans Saints (10-3) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Breakdown: Coming off a surprising run to the AFC title game, the Baltimore Ravens will have an easier schedule in 2009, opening with a home game against quarterback Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Ravens' strength of schedule is a meager 28th in the NFL. Three opponents in the first five weeks are teams from 2008 with double-digit losses -- Kansas City, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. So there is a good opportunity for a fast start.
The longest stretch on the road for Baltimore is two games. The Ravens will play at Cleveland and at Cincinnati, Nov. 8 and 16, and also on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders, Dec. 27 and Jan. 3.
|John Harbaugh lets Baltimore fans know what they can expect from the Ravens in 2009.|
Complaint department: The Ravens are usually snubbed on scheduling issues, but there is not much to complain about this year. Baltimore got its bye at a good time this year -- in Week 7 -- so the Ravens came out of this relatively unscathed.
Wish granted: The Ravens will have a 1 p.m. game against the Steelers at Heinz Field on Dec. 27. Last month, Baltimore caused a stir by asking the league not to play the Steelers in Week 1 in prime time. The Ravens also will play host to the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium during a Sunday night game Nov. 29. So the Ravens got just what they wanted this year.
Ravens Regular-season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 13, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, at San Diego Chargers, 4:15 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, CLEVELAND BROWNS, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, at New England Patriots, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, CINCINNATI BENGALS, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, DENVER BRONCOS, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 16, at Cleveland Browns, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, PITTSBURGH STEELERS, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 7, at Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, DETROIT LIONS, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, CHICAGO BEARS, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, at Oakland Raiders, 4:15 p.m.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The annual release of the NFL schedule has become a holiday of sorts for football enthusiasts. On Tuesday, the league will release its slate of games for the 2009 season.
With that in mind, here are five wishes for the AFC North that I would like to see when the schedule is released:
1. Cleveland opens on the road
The NFL has given the Cleveland Browns an unbelievable 10 straight home openers since the team returned to the league in 1999, which is the longest such streak in the NFL. Three years ago, I questioned the league office about this and was told it was strictly a "coincidence.” It hasn't helped the Browns all that much, because they are 1-9 in those games. But if the NFL grants Cleveland a home opener for the 11th straight season, I'm taking this out of the "coincidence” category and throwing it into the "conspiracy" bin.
2. Cincinnati should be Cleveland's Week 1 opponent
Let's settle this right off the bat: Who has sleeper potential in the AFC North and who is a pretender? Both teams are in good spots to improve on its four-win seasons from 2008. The Browns and Bengals have much easier schedules and should have better luck with injuries. Last year the Baltimore Ravens beat the Bengals in the season opener and it propelled the Ravens to a great season. Who knows what can happen by pitting the Browns and Bengals in the 2009 opener in The Jungle?
3. Pittsburgh at Baltimore in prime time
As much as the Ravens took flak for not wanting to face the Steelers in Heinz Field at night to open the season, they did have a point that the schedule between these two teams wasn't balanced. This is the year Pittsburgh should definitely face Baltimore in a prime time match up at M&T Bank Stadium. After last season's classic trilogy, the NFL is finally catching on to this rivalry. The expectation is that both teams will be playoff contenders again next year, so at least one of its games deserve the national spotlight.
4. Jay Cutler vs. Ravens or Steelers early
Is new Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler the real deal? Will the biggest trade of the offseason pan out? Put Cutler to the test early against the Steelers' or Ravens' defense early and let's find out. The Bears play every team in the AFC North this season. So Cutler will have to face two of the NFL's stingiest defenses at some point. This doesn't necessarily have to be a season opener. But I want to see what Cutler is made of against one of these two units within the first month of the regular season.
5. No prime time games for Cleveland
Remember a year ago? The Browns were the darlings of the NFL following a 10-win season in 2007 and were awarded a whopping five prime time games. Well, that turned out to be an absolute disaster last year as Cleveland flopped its way to a 4-12 season that had television execs cringing. The Browns didn't earn the national spotlight this time around. Perhaps fewer prime time games next year will help them improve.