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Whenever the Ravens tangle with the Steelers, it’s always high-stakes.
But think back to last season, when the Ravens traveled to Pittsburgh in Week 16 with a chance to officially earn a playoff spot and knock the Steelers out of the chase.
How exciting was that (forgetting the result)?
The NFL’s schedule-makers are taking longer than usual in releasing parts of the league schedule – including the Week 1 primetime games and Thanksgiving contests – perhaps because they are trying to make sure there are more match-ups like that Ravens-Steelers showdown.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has reportedly made a push to schedule all divisional games in the final week of the regular season and in much of Week 16.
Not only might that increase intrigue late in the season, but Goodell is hoping it would force teams to play their starters throughout the entire regular season in pursuit of clinching a playoff berth. It would be more difficult to clinch a playoff spot early if divisional games are at the very end of the regular season.
“It will not necessarily eliminate the issue, but the Competition Committee – and I’ve stressed to them – we need to continue to look at this because it’s important to the quality of what we do, the integrity of our game,” Goodell said at the owners meetings.
Last year, Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell drew criticism for pulling his starters at the start of the second half of their Week 16 game against the New York Jets. The Jets rallied from six points behind at the half to win and ultimately get into the playoffs, where they reached the AFC Championship game.
As far as the Ravens are concerned, the scheduling alteration may not affect what they face all that much.
Since the formation of the AFC North in 2002, the Ravens have always faced at least one divisional opponent in the final two weeks of the season except once, in 2008 when they took on the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars to cap the season.
Baltimore played Pittsburgh in one of its final two games of the regular season in six of the past eight seasons. The Ravens faced the Cleveland Browns three times (2002, 2003, 2005) in the last two weeks and the Cincinnati Bengals twice (1997 and 1999). In 2002 and 2003 the Ravens took on the Browns, then Steelers in Weeks 16 and 17.
Last year, the Ravens played both home and away against the Browns and Bengals by Nov. 16. They didn’t face the Steelers for the first time until Nov. 29 and again on Dec. 27.