OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- If the Baltimore Ravens fail to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season, no one can blame it on the schedule.
The Ravens' 2017 slate of games is perhaps the most favorable one in team history. The NFL schedule-makers granted every one of Baltimore's wishes, from a home Monday Night Football game to a late-season bye to not finishing the season in Cincinnati.
The only complaint would be Weeks 3-5, when the Ravens face a stretch in which they travel to London, return to face their fiercest rival and then fly cross-country to play a formidable Oakland Raiders team. Still, it was Baltimore that requested not to have a bye immediately following its overseas game.
The Ravens really couldn't have drawn up a better schedule themselves, and here are more reasons why:
Baltimore has the easiest September schedule in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Ravens' first three opponents -- the Bengals, Browns and Jaguars -- were a combined 10-37-1 (.219) in 2016. This gives Baltimore an excellent chance for a fast start to 2017.
This is one of the most balanced schedules in the league. The Ravens don't play consecutive weeks at home or on the road until they get back-to-back games at M&T Bank Stadium against the Texans and Lions in late November and early December. It's a dramatic difference from 2015, when Baltimore was forced to play five of its first seven games on the road.
The Ravens get their first home Monday Night Football game in five years and just their second in the past decade. Baltimore was too often placed at a scheduling disadvantage when it had to fly back from Arizona, Detroit and New Orleans in the early hours of Tuesday morning on what was already a shortened week.
Baltimore gets another edge in playing host to another Thursday night game. The Ravens are 5-0 on Thursdays at M&T Bank Stadium. The Miami Dolphins, a playoff team last season, have to fly up on a short week after playing a division game against the New York Jets. Since 2011, the Dolphins have the NFL's worst road record on Thursday night (0-4).
The Ravens have had their struggles on the road the past two seasons (4-12), but they have caught a few breaks with the scheduling. Baltimore faces the Jacksonville Jaguars at a neutral site in London. The Ravens travel to the Tennessee Titans after playing a Thursday night game, giving them three extra days of rest. And Baltimore gets it bye week before playing at the Green Bay Packers.
Baltimore comes out plus-two in terms of getting more rest before its upcoming opponent. In addition to playing the Titans after a Thursday night game the previous week and the Packers after the bye, the Ravens face the Bears and Steelers (the second meeting) after those teams play on Monday night. So, Baltimore gets Chicago and Pittsburgh on a short week. The only two instances where the Ravens are at a disadvantage are their games at Tennessee, which will be coming off it bye, and home against the Indianapolis Colts, who get three extra days off following a Thursday night game.
The Ravens finish out the regular season with back-to-back home games for the first time in their 22-year existence. This is a reversal from last season, when Baltimore played three of its final four games on the road. The Ravens had closed out five of the previous six seasons in Cincinnati. Now Baltimore gets the Bengals at home in Week 17. The Ravens are 10-0 in finales at M&T Bank Stadium.
When looking at the schedule, the Ravens have an opportunity start fast and finish strong. Baltimore gets its long-awaited first trip to London, but the Ravens were granted a Week 10 bye that will allow the players to catch their breath before the stretch run.
The Ravens had a right to grumble about the schedule in previous seasons. Not this one.