Ravens' first five weeks of the season can make or break a critical year

The Baltimore Ravens are looking to reach the postseason for the first time since 2014, and they'll need to take care of business in the early part of their schedule to do so. The Ravens' first five weeks include a visit to their toughest place to play, their first trip overseas, a game against their chief rival a week following that London game and a cross-country flight to play one of the top teams in the AFC. My forecast for the Ravens in April was 9-7, and I'm sticking with that record.

Here are my game-by-game predictions for the 2017 season:

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

Recipe for disaster? Joe Flacco hasn't thrown one pass in the preseason, and he begins the season at his personal house of horrors. Flacco is 2-6 for his career at Paul Brown Stadium, where he has thrown five touchdowns and 12 interceptions (an awful 61.2 passer rating). The Ravens' offensive struggles are the primary reason why they haven't won in Cincinnati since the 2011 season. Record: 0-1.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

Who's going to be the starting quarterback for the Browns? Does it really matter? The Ravens have defeated the Browns in eight of their past nine meetings at M&T Bank Stadium. That dominance has meant beating six different Cleveland quarterbacks: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Seneca Wallace (twice), Brandon Weeden (twice), Connor Shaw and Cody Kessler. Record: 1-1.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (in London), 9:30 a.m. ET

For the first international game in franchise history, the Ravens draw a team that's tougher than its reputation. Jacksonville has given Baltimore fits in each of the past three seasons, when every game has been decided by one possession. The Jaguars have talent everywhere except the game's most important position, and the Ravens' improved secondary should be the difference going against Blake Bortles. Record: 2-1.

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET

The last team the Ravens wanted to see coming off their London trip was their biggest rival. But, while jet lag could be a factor for the Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have had trouble shaking the Baltimore blues. The Steelers have lost their past four games at M&T Bank Stadium, and Roethlisberger has thrown three touchdowns and four interceptions over that span. The last time Pittsburgh scored over 20 points in Baltimore was 2012. Record: 3-1.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8, at Oakland Raiders, 4:05 p.m. ET

The Ravens' last trip to the Black Hole will be a dark day as long as Derek Carr is under center. He has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception in the past two meetings with Baltimore. In the fourth quarter alone, Carr has thrown for 175 yards and three touchdowns against the Ravens in 2015 and 2016. Record: 3-2.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET

There will be plenty of talk about the Bears' quarterback, whether it's Mike Glennon or Mitchell Trubisky. The bigger factor will be the Bears' porous defense. Chicago has allowed 26.8 points per game on the road since 2014 -- the fourth-worst average in the NFL over that span. Record: 4-2.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings' defense has the potential to be special and just as good as the Ravens on that side of the ball. Flacco has the NFL's 33rd passer rating on the road since 2013 (75.2). That's a bad combination for the Ravens in their first trip to U.S. Bank Stadium. Record: 4-3.

Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 26, vs. Miami Dolphins, 8:25 p.m. ET

Flacco has owned the Dolphins, winning all six meetings with Miami (including the playoffs). He has thrown nine touchdowns and three interceptions for a 109.5 passer rating, his highest against any team he's played more than two times. The last time the Dolphins won in Baltimore was 1997, when Jimmy Johnson was their coach. Record: 5-3.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET

Much like the Raiders last season, the Titans are looking like the AFC team that will take that next step to being a playoff team. The reason: Marcus Mariota is proving to be a franchise quarterback and the Titans are building a strong line to protect him. This spells trouble for a Baltimore team that has had success in Nashville. Record: 5-4.

Week 10: Bye

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19, at Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. ET

The Ravens have historically fared well after byes. But the Ravens have historically been bad at legendary Lambeau Field, losing on all three trips there. Want worse news? Aaron Rodgers has the NFL's best home passer rating over the past four seasons (111.7), throwing 72 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Record: 5-5.

Week 12: Monday, Nov. 27, vs. Houston Texans, 8:30 p.m. ET

It will be a special night in Baltimore, where the Ravens play host to their first home Monday Night Football game in five years. This has traditionally not been a prime-time matchup at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are 4-0 against the Texans in Baltimore, winning by an average margin of 11 points. Record: 6-5.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, vs. Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET

The Lions have had just as many injuries as the Ravens along the offensive line, which is saying a lot. That bodes well for a Ravens pass rush that is expected to put plenty of heat on quarterbacks this season. Over the past three years, Matthew Stafford has completed just 41.6 percent of his passes when pressured. Record: 7-5.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30 p.m. ET

This matchup could decide the AFC North champion, much like it did last season. The Ravens lost at Heinz Field on Christmas Day in 2016 because they couldn't stop Roethlisberger when it mattered. That has been a troublesome trend for the Ravens, who are 3-10 (including playoffs) against Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Record: 7-6.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, at Browns, 1 p.m. ET

Like many teams, the Ravens have made themselves at home in Cleveland. Half of the Ravens' four road wins the past two seasons have come at FirstEnergy Stadium. Baltimore even spotted Cleveland 20 points in the first quarter last year and still won, 25-20. Record: 8-6.

Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 23, vs. Indianapolis Colts, 4:30 p.m. ET

This game would have a different outcome if it were early in the season, when Andrew Luck's status is uncertain. By this time, Luck should be back -- which is bad news for Baltimore. Quarterbacks who ranked in the top 10 in passer rating went 4-0 against the Ravens last season. Luck quietly put together a bounce-back year after an injury-riddled 2015 campaign, finishing with the ninth-best rating. Even though Baltimore upgraded its secondary, this will be the one surprising home loss of the season. Record: 8-7.

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, vs. Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

The Ravens have picked off Andy Dalton more than any quarterback in the league over the past five seasons (10 in nine games). That number should increase without tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler there to protect him. Baltimore is also 10-0 in regular-season finales played at home. Record: 9-7.