When M&T Bank Stadium opens its doors on September 13, 2020, the only sea of purple in the stands will be empty seat-backs and fan cutouts, as the Baltimore Ravens will begin their 25th Anniversary campaign without any benefit of Charm City’s faithful in attendance.
However, while the noise may be artificial, the anticipation of a championship run remains genuinely real.
Echoes of Lamar Jackson’s award-winning 2019 MVP performance will reverberate with every offensive snap until the final whistle is blown on the Quest of 32 for the Vince Lombardi Trophy — and this time, there is every reason to believe that Jackson and the Ravens will be hoisting hardware in Tampa, FL, in early February.
Standing in their way: the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. These two AFC powerhouses are slated to clash in Week three. This slug-fest is almost guaranteed to illuminate Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on Monday Night Football in late-September. This early-season heavyweight brawl punctuates the first half of the Ravens’ road to Super Bowl LV. The first part of their odyssey is highlighted by an alternating travel schedule through the first seven weeks, similar to the Ravens’ unique 2019 schedule.
Along with their September 28th reservation with the Chiefs, Baltimore’s calendar features five prime time games, including four in a span of five weeks following their mid-season bye. This month-long stretch on the national stage begins with a visit to Gillette Stadium to meet the Cam Newton-led New England Patriots in Week 10 — a statement that reads more like fan-fiction from the latest Madden.
In a season full of expectations, the Ravens also play on Thanksgiving for the first time since 2013. Coincidentally, they will match up against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, as they had in their last Turkey Day scrum.
Other highlights include: a Week 11 revenge game against the Tennessee Titans in a Divisional Round rematch; a Week 15 reunion of Calais Campbell and the Jacksonville Jaguars; as well as a familiar Week 17 clash with the revamped Cincinnati Bengals, ending the season with this exact divisional match-up for the eighth time in 11 seasons.
Though optimism abounds for every team at the dawn of a new year, separation within the field of 32 may manifest much sooner, thanks to mounting off-field concerns that have already trickled into on-field play.
With the absence of a traditional offseason program and preseason games, rust may become a larger factor through the first quarter of the year. Fear abounds that the lack of contact may result in poorer performance and mounting injuries. In the face of a pandemic, any league-wide outbreaks may also result in an adjusted league schedule. Most worryingly, a stoppage could truncate the season, further emphasizing conference and divisional games as the calendar allows. Furthermore, the availability of players — whether by injury or personal decision — could force a greater frequency of depth chart adjustments.
For the Ravens, rookies such as former Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins provide added luxury to an already deep position; others, such as former LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, will be tasked with immediately solidifying positions of greater need. The dependence on these young upstarts will be dictated largely by unprecedented circumstances, placing an increased criticality on decision-making of general manager, Eric DeCosta, and the front office.
The untimely release of Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, for detrimental conduct, carries weight, both financially and strategically. Pundits and fans will be quick to second-guess the move if third-year replacement DeShon Elliott underwhelms in his stead. Though the defensive backfield returns a majority of starters from Baltimore’s postseason run, the absence of the highly-graded Thomas could create strife in the midst of adversity.
However, the defense is not lacking in star power and stability. In addition to the signings of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, the return of franchise-tagged Matt Judon, alongside star cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and the newly-inked Marcus Peters, gives opposing coordinators enough reasons to fear the reprise of one of the NFL’s top-ranked units.
Despite the defensive pedigree of the organization, the success of the Ravens’ 25th Anniversary season relies on the electric Lamar Jackson. After surpassing all imaginable expectations in his second season, Jackson is once again set to captain one of the league’s most balanced and explosive offenses of 2019. With a bevy of skill players at his disposal resembling an Olympic track team, Baltimore hopes to sprint into Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium on February 7th with a ravenous appetite for the franchise’s third Super Bowl championship.
Whether by ground or by air, the mode of travel matters not; the Baltimore Ravens are poised to rewrite the detour of last season and punch their ticket to Super Bowl LV.