The Cleveland Browns return home to host the Baltimore Ravens in a key AFC North battle. Baltimore is currently tied for first with a 3-1 record and is a couple of games ahead of the Browns who are currently 1-2-1. The Ravens have won 14 of their last 19 contests on the road in this series.
Baker Mayfield's first start with Cleveland didn't exactly go as planned as the Browns lost in overtime against the Raiders. Now, the officials had their part in this fiasco, but Mayfield wasn't exactly perfect either. The rookie was 21-for-41 for 295 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. There is a different energy around the fan base and the team with him under center. Baker needs to work on his connection with fellow rookie Antonio Callaway. The last two games have seen the former Gator wide receiver thrown to 20 times with the result being only seven catches. The defense has seen an improvement, but still isn't making the stops when they absolutely need to.
The Ravens' offense is devoid of true superstars, but they seem to be making it work without them. Joe Flacco has a fire lit under him with Baltimore drafting Lamar Jackson. He's completed 64.3 percent of his passes and has just two interceptions in 171 attempts. Wide receivers John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead IV all came from different teams, but are representing solid options for the quarterback. The Ravens are also doing it on offense even though they are averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. Alex Collins has been decently effective, but his fumble last game may cut into his future carries.
Last year the Ravens swept the Browns, beating them rather easily in each matchup. They knocked off Cleveland 24-10 at home in a tilt that saw them force five turnovers. The Ravens won on the road 27-10 with the Browns turning the ball over another four times. Clearly, this will be a factor in this one.
Baltimore at Cleveland
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Ravens -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Who can establish the run?
This game features a classic strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness dynamic. The Browns are averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 152.8 yards per contest on the ground. Nick Chubb has just 10 carries, but has accrued 146 yards and two touchdowns with most of that damage coming against Oakland last week. Chubb joins Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson in the backfield. Baltimore is holding teams to just 82.5 rushing yards per contest. Denver put up the most with 120 yards in Week 3. Pittsburgh last week only ran the ball 11 times, which hurt the Steelers tremendously as it made them one-dimensional.
I previously mentioned the lack of a run game for the Ravens. Collins and Javorius Allen represent the biggest threats in the backfield although rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson is also carrying the ball too. To me, Jackson needs to be used more as a passer to keep teams honest. Two opponents had some success against the Browns' defense on the ground with one of those being the Steelers, who racked up 159 yards with James Conner doing the legwork. A solid run game will keep teams honest and keep the pressure off of Joe Flacco as well.
I like to look at the factors that may not jump out to the common fan. Baltimore is playing their second straight road game and is coming off the always emotional meeting with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Ravens have won three of their last four contests after seeing their divisional rival with a couple of those victories coming against these same Browns. If you expand it out, this will be the team's third away game over four weeks with another one coming up next week against the Titans. The benefit for them is that they will get all of these divisional games at home later on in the slate. Cleveland has alternated home and road contests so far and they will matchup with the Chargers in Cleveland next week so there's no look-ahead factor. The situation favors the home team at least in terms of the intangibles.
3. Young and old
There are two of the better pass rushers/defensive players in the league in this contest and whoever makes their impact felt more could make a difference. Myles Garrett has 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles already for the Browns and he's proving to be very hard to block. Garrett had seven sacks all last year so he's growing and maturing as a pass rusher. Larry Ogunjobi has three sacks as well. On the other side, you have the veteran Terrell Suggs who is still making an impact so deep into his NFL career. He has nine solo tackles and 2.5 sacks to along with a forced fumble. Baker Mayfield has been sacked only three times so far this season and has shown some pocket presence when under fire. Flacco has been brought down nine times and doesn't have as much mobility.
The last time we were in Cleveland, they were cracking open Bud Light victory fridges as the team beat the Jets and got that ugly zero out of the win column. The energy of Baker Mayfield will be felt throughout the stadium as he gets a stiff test from the Ravens defense. I'll admit that I was not a buyer of the Ravens until I saw how workmanlike they were in a win over the Steelers. Still, Cleveland is going to be a tough out at home and Myles Garrett will make his presence felt. I think the Browns get the outright win and Antonio Callaway finds the end zone for the second time in 2018.
Prediction: Browns 21, Ravens 17
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of @Browns)