This AFC North rivalry has been one-sided for the last four years.
Two teams on the opposite end of the NFL spectrum will clash tonight when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cleveland Browns at 8:20 pm EST on the NFL Network. The Ravens have the difficult task of a short recovery from an emotional 31-30 Sunday night win over the Patriots, but Ray Lewis and company have beaten Cleveland eight straight times. The Browns are looking for anything positive after an 0-3 start, and Baltimore is a tough place to get well. At least this game will feature the regular NFL referees after an agreement was reached Wednesday night.
When the Baltimore Ravens have the ball:
Quarterback Joe Flacco is off to a great start, leading the AFC with 913 passing yards. His favorite target has been tight end Dennis Pitta, who already has 18 receptions on the season. Second-year wideout Torrey Smith leads Baltimore in receiving yards with 235. And then there is All-Pro tailback Ray Rice, who has compiled over 2,000 total yards in two of the last three seasons and already has three scores this year.
The Browns defense has played decently at times this season, but there must be improvement on the 1,175 yards allowed in three games. Cleveland has been able to pressure opposing passers, totaling nine sacks and an AFC-leading five interceptions this year. Frustrating Flacco and getting some takeaways will be a key for the Browns, but they must be able limit Rice’s production on the ground to do so.
When the Cleveland Browns have the ball:
The rookie tandem of quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson will try to lead a Browns offense that currently ranks 26th in the league in yardage. Cleveland cannot afford to turn the ball over against the Ravens, and Weeden already has six interceptions and has been sacked eight times this year. Finding a way to get the dynamic Richardson more touches will be a key tonight. The Browns challenge becomes even more difficult with receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) and tight end Alex Smith (concussion) out for this game.
The Ravens defense has plenty of veteran stars like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but the usually-elite unit has given up over 400 yards per game this year. Weeden should pose less of a threat than signal callers like Michael Vick and Tom Brady, so the key for Baltimore will be stopping Richardson. As long as the rookie runner never gets into a rhythm, the Ravens should be able to stifle the Browns offense.
This one looks like a mismatch on paper, with Baltimore heavily favored to make it nine consecutive wins over Cleveland. The Browns must win the turnover battle to stay in this game, and they have shown a penchant for harassing opposing signal callers. If the Ravens protect the ball, an easy home win should follow.
Ravens 27, Browns 13
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)