I'm not a believer in conspiracy theories. I don't believe the Patriots are gifted wins (it doesn't hurt that the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills have been bottom feeders for about the past decade), or that the league made rule changes to give Peyton Manning a Super Bowl ring.
Which is why I don't believe that the schedule-makers though, "How can we make things difficult for a Ravens team that's breaking in a new offense, two new offensive linemen, and will be missing their starting running back? Let's give them three divisional opponents back-to-back-to-back, including one on a short week!" and then laughed maniacally while twirling their mustaches.
But that doesn't mean I don't have my problems with it. It's mainly two problems, but they're two big problems:
1. The Ravens play 5 out of 6 divisional games within the first two months of the season.
The Ravens played the Bengals and Steelers. Next Sunday they have a match-up with the Browns, and then they have back-to-back matchups against the Bengals and Steelers in Weeks 8 and 9. The Ravens will cross the midseason mark having played all but one of their division matchups.
The last of those matchups is a Week 17 game against the Browns. I might have been OK with the Ravens having played five out of six divisional games before the halfway mark if their Week 17 matchup was against the Steelers, and frankly it's a better idea. Week 17 Ravens vs. Steelers, a game with playoff implications, possibly even win-or-go-home. Nope. Replaced with a game between a team whose playoff hopes end before Yom Kippur and the team that has beaten them 11 out of 12 times.
2. The Ravens have almost no noteworthy opponents after the bye.
The Ravens play the Steelers, Bengals, Falcons, Colts, Buccaneers, Browns and Panthers before the bye. After the bye the Ravens play the Saints, Chargers, Dolphins, Browns, Texans, Titans and Jaguars. Not necessarily in that order, but you get the point. The Saints are the only opponent on that list that I consider truly noteworthy, as I consider the Chargers a prime candidate for regression and don't have high expectations for the Dolphins, Texans, Titans, Jaguars and Browns.