On November 5th the Ravens walked off the field having lost to the Steelers by a score of 23 to 16. It was their 3rd straight loss and their 4th loss in five games. What originally looked like a promising season was slowly going down the tubes as the Ravens record fell to 4 wins/5 losses. Going into the bye week most fans thought the Ravens season was all but over – and I readily admit was one of them. The Steelers and the Bengals were looking good, and the Steelers were sitting at the top of the AFC North with what looked like a run to another eleven-game season. But the fortunes changed and the Steelers had an uncharacteristic three game slide and the Ravens came out of the bye playing great defense and ball control offense. It is hard to imagine that the Ravens are playing this Sunday – not for a wild card spot – but for the AFC North title. With a Ravens win or a Steelers loss the Ravens will punch their tickets to the playoffs. An AFC North title would be nice as we haven’t had one of those since our 2012 Superbowl run.
A word about the Ravens defense and how important they have been this year. First, through 15 weeks the Ravens are first in yards allowed (284), first in points allowed (17.5), third against the rush and 4 against the pass. They have given up over 30 points in a game just once this year. They have achieved all of this while facing seven teams that had top ten offenses – that is nothing short of amazing. Coach Wink has done a great job this year and he has produced these results with basically the same personnel that we had last year. In 2017 the Ravens defense was ranked twelfth in the league and also had the benefit of facing a slew of second-string quarterbacks. Somehow the Ravens defense have taken their game to the next level, and this past Sunday they showed in dramatic fashion that they can close out games as well. If the Ravens defense plays like it did in LA, the Browns will have a very difficult time producing any offense.
The Ravens offense has also gone through a makeover this season. With Joe Flacco – in the first nine games of the season the Ravens had the 27th ranked running game – today they boast the 2nd ranked running game averaging 145 yards per game. Moving that much up in the rankings (25 positions) in just six games is extraordinary. To be fair there has been a corresponding drop in our passing game but overall offensive productivity has not suffered in the least. The time of possession has been leaning heavily for the Ravens under this run heavy offense and this has kept the Ravens defense off the field and fresh for the fourth quarter.
The mantra this week has been “win and you’re in”. The Ravens are in full control of their destiny and all they need to do is to dispatch the Browns and they go to the playoffs. That said, we have heard this before. Last year in game sixteen with the Bengals – all we needed to do was take care of them and we were in the playoffs. With forty-four seconds remaining in the game, the Bengals go for it on 4th and twelve yards – and Dalton hits Tyler Boyd with a pass that goes forty-nine yards for a game winning score. Season over! That bitter taste is still in my mouth and I hope in the Ravens locker room. Giving up leads late in the game has been a problem at times, but I believe this year will be different. The Ravens will not be taking anything for granted on Sunday and I expect them to be prepared for the Browns.
If you told the Ravens back in September that they would be playing for the AFC North Championship in game sixteen against the Browns – they would have been licking their chops. The hapless Browns were winless in 2017 and barely won a game in 2016. They were awful and there was little hope of them improving. Turn the page to 2018, the Browns started out the year looking like the Browns – poor play and by week nine they were two wins, six losses and one tie. Pretty much the same old Browns, but that is not at all the case now. The Browns have won five of six and have been every bit as hot as the Ravens – there only loss coming from the Texans on the road. Since firing Hue Jackson in October, the Browns have gone five wins and two losses under Gregg Williams. With a win on Sunday the Browns could have their first winning season since the late 1800s. You have to believe that the Browns would love nothing more than to be the spoiler on Sunday and to rain on the Ravens parade. Baker Mayfield has done an exceptional job since taking over the QB role for the Browns, and he led them to victory in his first contest against the Ravens racking up 342 passing yards in that game. If the Browns were to win Sunday and sweep the division series I firmly believe there would be a tremor in the Cosmos. Much to my chagrin, the Browns are playing for something this Sunday. It is also worth noting that Breshad Perriman, now a Brown, would love to show the Ravens that they made a huge mistake giving up on him. Don’t go to sleep on Perriman either because he does have great speed and he apparently has discovered that his hands have fingers. Baker will definitely be looking to get Perriman involved early in the game. Typically, you don’t see a lot of Brown fans in Baltimore, but I think you will see them on Sunday as these fans still hold a grudge for Baltimore and would love to see their team spoil the Ravens season and enjoy some good old fashion schadenfreude.
There should be no surprises on Sunday. The Ravens are going to try and pound the ball up the middle and move the chains. They will throw enough to keep the Browns from shoving eight in the box, but I would be surprised if Lamar threw more than twenty-five times. The Ravens defense love the home field crowd and they will play aggressive. I just hope that the defense does not play over amped and get out of position. Mayfield should see lots of pressures and if the defense does it the right, they should get plenty of hits on him. Weddle has been noted as saying that this is not your same old Ravens – I think he is right about that. I think this team is better, more confident and focused on the prize. We will find out soon enough on Sunday. Ravens are hungry for the post season and they have it in front of them. They just need to play their game and keep winning the line of scrimmage. If the Ravens don’t turn the ball over, I don’t see how they lose this game. Three years of not being in the playoffs is too long for this team and they are ready to play some football in January. This game figures to be a tough contest and a grind it out kind of game, but the Ravens prevail and win this one to take the division. The odds makers have the Ravens by 6 points and I would go with a push as noted by my prediction below. The over/under is set at 41 and I like the over. Enjoy the game and stay thirsty my friends.
Please note: I will be traveling this weekend and will not see the game so there will be no recap for the Browns game.
Cleveland Browns hosted by the Baltimore Ravens – December 30th at 4:25 pm
Odds – Ravens by 6
Score Ravens 26 Browns 20
Turnovers Plus 1
Net Rushing Yardage Ravens 170 Browns 101
Net Passing Yardage Ravens 222 Browns 216
• Chubb gets 21 carries for 83 yards
• Suggs gets a strip sack
• Harbaugh challenges twice and wins both
• Refs make terrible calls
Possible Monday morning headlines in the Sun Papers
• Ravens win the AFC North!
Keys to the Game
• Win win win the turnover battle
• Pressure Mayfield and force some mistakes
• Stop the Run and make them one dimensional