The Baltimore Ravens will open and close their 2003 season with games against the AFC North Division rivals they probably will need to overtake to return to the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens, who missed the playoffs last season with a 7-9 record after winning Super Bowl XXXV and advancing to the second round of the AFC playoffs in consecutive years, will visit the Steelers in the season opener Sept. 7, and follow that with a home game against the Browns. They will visit the Browns on Dec. 21 and end the regular season a week later, at home against the Steelers in the second of their two ESPN Sunday night games.
Pittsburgh won the division last season with a 10-5-1 record. The Browns also made the playoffs at 9-7.
Coach Brian Billick in a statement said those two opening games "will give us an early barometer of what we are and what we can be."
"We closed last season with those teams," Billick said, "and lost games [by a point to the Browns and three to the Steelers] that were decided in the final seconds."
Billick said he was satisfied that there was almost a month between each of the three long road trips, Oct. 12 against the Arizona Cardinals, Nov. 9 against the St. Louis Rams (ESPN) and Dec. 14 against the Oakland Raiders. But he noted that each of those road tests also was followed by an away game.
"We'll handle that," he said.
The Ravens will face one of their former top aides, Cincinnati Bengals new head coach Marvin Lewis, on the road Oct. 19 and at home Dec. 7. Baltimore's NFC games are against the Cardinals and Rams on the road and the Seattle Seahawks (Nov. 23) and San Francisco 49ers (Nov. 30) at home.
Baltimore did not get a Monday night game, and owner Art Modell said he was "disappointed." He added that the league schedule makers "can't please everyone."