Yes, this may seem like an early topic, but let me preface by saying these announcements are traditionally made around this time of year (last season on November 6th, 2014’s announcement was leaked mid-October) so we’re smack dab in the middle of that territory where we can expect the TBD tag to be lifted for 2017.
My gut feeling is that Ravens fans should be expecting a road game over the pond next season.
Let’s do the Cliff’s Notes version of ‘How The NFL International Series Started.’
Preceded by the failures of NFL Europe, the NFL International Series kicked off it’s inaugural season back in 2007, as the Miami Dolphins played ‘host’ to the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Since then, the NFL has increased its International Series games from one to three per season, with an eye to expand even further, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fantasizing about a London Super Bowl in the future because he hates his fan base in the US, obviously.
So why are the Ravens the next likely suitor for a skip over the pond to the land of tea time, fish & chips, warm beer and a shortage of dental hygienists?
Because Math. That’s why.
In the past 10 seasons of the NFL International Series, the league has seen 24 different franchises make the trip out of the country – be it as host or away team – leaving only eight teams remaining behind in the contiguous US.
Those franchises that have yet to explore the UK?
Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Bucaneers, Tennessee Titans…
…and the Baltimore Ravens.
So of those eight, what makes Baltimore more likely than the others?
First and foremost, we already know who two of the hosts for these International Series games will be – the Jacksonville Jaguars & the LA Rams. While the Ravens won’t see the Rams for another three seasons, the Ravens will be facing the Jaguars next season, and with the NFL trying to get competitive games overseas, what better matchup could they offer for the Jags?
Head-to-head, the Ravens are 9-11 against Jacksonville, and next year will mark the 4th consecutive season the two teams have faced each other. Delving deeper, the past three games were all one-score games – the Ravens came away victorious 20-12 back in 2014, while the Jags took the W last season 22-20 in 2015 (let’s not relive that one right now) and most recently, the Ravens won this season 19-17.
Whether or not you want to hear this, Ravens fans who view Jacksonville as a struggling franchise and (through purple tinted glasses) see the Ravens as a powerhouse, the two teams have become a bit of an unorthodox rival, and this has all of the makings of a great game next season.
So why the Ravens, and none of the other seven teams that haven’t traveled to the UK?
It’s all about the Jags’ schedule. Based on the potential 2017 schedule, the Jaguars will not be playing the Packers, Panthers, Eagles or Bucaneers.
Four down, four to go.
For their contract with Wimbley Stadium in London, the Jacksonville Jaguars must be the home team, and as it appears right now, the Cleveland Browns will be hosting Jacksonville, which nullifies their opportunity. And while the Titans play Jacksonville every season, both home and away as a division rival, in the 18 games played through the 2016 season, only twice has a matchup featured division rivals in the International Series. After all, doesn’t every team want their true home field advantage for a divisional tilt, as opposed to a ‘home’ field advantage at a neutral site?
Down to two – Baltimore and Seattle.
Both the Seahawks and the Ravens visit Jacksonville next season, but I give the advantage/edge to Baltimore simply due to GPS coordinates. Seattle will already be taking a seven-plus hour flight to Jacksonville next season. Tacking on another four hours to the UK is asking a lot of the Seahawks, then compounding that craziness by having them likely follow it up with another east coast game or two while they’re out there? I’d imagine Pete Carroll & his team would be none too thrilled…
And honestly, if the NFL was hell bent on the Seahawks playing an international game, I would fully expect them to be headed down at Mexico City, just as the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders will be this season. It would allow Seattle to play an International Series game without all of the chaotic scheduling surrounding it.
So there sit the Baltimore Ravens as the likeliest of yet-to-go-to-the-UK-teams to head to the UK next season.
And if you don’t like my logic, believe the NFL would send all repeat franchises, or believe the Ravens would scoff at the notion of facing Jacksonville in the UK when they can easily fill their stadium with Ravens fans in Florida?
Let me remind you that next season not only has a minimum of three games in the UK, but potential to play upwards of FIVE. And while the Ravens’ contract with M&T Bank Stadium mandates they play 10 games per season at home (two preseason, eight regular season), thus nullifying the potential for the Ravens to be the ‘home team‘ in the UK, there’s still potentially four other spots to fill as road teams.
So keep your eyes peeled as we approach Turkey Day next month Ravens fans. Our boys may be ready to make the jump over the pond.