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Six game stretch from Week 4 through Week 9 the hardest of the Ravens 2017 schedule

The Ravens face three 2016 playoffs teams, and two teams that are quickly rising

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, taking the NFL world one step closer to seeing football again. Obviously, every schedule has its difficult stretches, and for the Ravens in 2017, that will come from Week 4 through Week 9.

The schedule for that portion of the season is as follows: vs Pittsburgh, @Oakland, vs Chicago, @Minnesota, vs Miami (Thursday), and @Tennessee.

This stretch is the most difficult for two reasons. First, because of the caliber of the opponents, and second, because of the travel involved.

From Week 4 through Week 9, the Ravens will face three teams that made the 2016 playoffs — Pittsburgh, Oakland and Miami — as well as two rising teams that look poised to qualify for the playoffs in 2017, the Vikings and Titans.

Pittsburgh, Oakland and Miami all return the key components of their roster, with the exception of Oakland’s loss of Latavius Murray. However, that departure would be quickly compensated for if Oakland is able to acquire Marshawn Lynch. Oakland stunk it up in the playoffs in 2016, but the team will get Derek Carr back in 2017, who missed that Wild Card Round playoff game against Houston, and that Raiders offense will be high flying once again.

Pittsburgh was able to re-sign Le’Veon Bell as well as ink Antonio Brown to a long term extension, plus Ben Roethlisberger decided to forgo retirement for one more season. Pittsburgh will again have one of the elite offensive units in the NFL.

Miami just edged the Ravens out of a playoff spot in 2016, and they return their core as well. The Dolphins were able to add Lawrence Timmons to solidify its linebacker corps, as well as add Julius Thomas to help the passing game. All three teams should be very tough.

The Ravens will also face Minnesota and Tennessee, teams steadily on the rise. It is unclear whether the Vikings will be able to bring back Adrian Peterson, but the key for them is Teddy Bridgewater. On top of this, the Vikings already have an elite defense. If Bridgewater is able to return this season and continue to play at a high level, the Vikings will become a legitimate playoff contender.

Tennessee is very close to be a power in the AFC, and could be on its way to making the 2017 playoffs. Marcus Mariota continues to rise into the upper tier of NFL quarterbacks, the offensive line and running game are elite, and the defense is close to being one of the better units in the league. The Titans have two first round picks, and very likely could add Marshon Lattimore to solidify the secondary, as well as John Ross to give Mariota a playmaking wide receiver. If this happens, Tennessee’s rise to the upper echelon of NFL teams could occur quicker than most expected.

Not only do the Ravens have tough matchups in five of these six games, but the travel does not work in their favor as well. The Ravens will return from London in Week 3 for a massive Week 4 game at home against the Steelers. They follow that with flying all the way out to Oakland, before coming all the way back to Baltimore to face the Bears. The Ravens immediately go on the road again to face smash mouth Vikings defense, and then get a short week to face the Dolphins at home on a Thursday night. The Ravens then have to travel again, this time to face the Titans and their offensive line that could largely wear down the Ravens front. After this stretch, the Ravens will get a much needed bye week.

That is a lot of traveling back and forth, with a short week for a Thursday night game thrown in there. Oh yeah, and the games are not cupcakes either. Again, this stretch features three 2016 playoff teams that should be strong again in 2017, as well as two other teams that have a legitimate shot at making the 2017 postseason.

The Ravens 2017 schedule definitely is not easy, and this stretch will be the hardest that the team must endure.