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Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns Prediction and Preview

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns Prediction and Preview

Ravens, Browns tangle for the second time in three weeks with the hosts looking to snap a four-game losing streak to their AFC North rivals

It's déjà vu all over again as Cleveland hosts Baltimore just two weeks after the Ravens won 16-10 in their own building. It was an ugly contest in which Justin Tucker kicked three FGs and neither team cracked the 310-yard mark on offense. Lamar Jackson was awful as a passer, throwing four interceptions, but his one touchdown pass to Mark Andrews was the difference in getting the win.

Baltimore (8-4) fell 20-19 last Sunday in Pittsburgh. After struggling on offense all game, the Ravens scored a touchdown with just 12 seconds left and opted to go for two instead of the tie. The try was unsuccessful, sealing a much-needed win for the Steelers. Jackson threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and also led his team in rushing with 55 yards. Baltimore dominated the clock (had the ball for 36:30) but averaged less than five yards per play (4.7), and several drives were short-circuited by sacks (Jackson went down seven times) or other mistakes. With the loss, the Ravens' lead in the AFC North is just one game over the Bengals — and they dropped to 1-2 in divisional play.

The Browns (6-6) are just two games behind Baltimore and, coming off of their bye, should be fresh and eager for another shot at the division leaders. Even though Cleveland is 11th in the AFC, the team is very much alive in the playoff chase. The Browns need to start stringing complete performances together as they have alternated wins and losses over their last six games. They also have lost four in a row to the Ravens.

Baltimore (8-4) at Cleveland (6-6)

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Cleveland -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Intangibles
Obviously, there are some unique situations involving this game considering they just played two weeks ago. And in Cleveland's case, it's really back-to-back games against Baltimore since the Browns' bye was last week. The Ravens are ending a stretch of four out of five on the road, and they have won just one of those contests thus far. Baltimore also has a home date with Green Bay on tap for next week. The Ravens are particularly banged up and just lost their best cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, for the rest of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. He becomes the 17th Baltimore player to go on injured reserve.

Cleveland should be fresher, coming off of its bye, but the Browns have some health concerns of their own. Tight end David Njoku was put on the Reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week and, during the bye week, right tackle Jack Conklin was put on IR for the second time this season. A handful of other players have already missed practice time this week, including wide receiver Jarvis Landry, but none of these situations seem particularly concerning at this point. Cleveland has a short turnaround after this one as it will host Las Vegas next Saturday.

2. Lamar Jackson
Baltimore's quarterback is tied for the second-most interceptions this season with 13, compared to 16 touchdown passes. He has tossed eight picks over the last four games (Ravens are 2-2 in that span) and his current season total is only five fewer than the number of interceptions he threw in his first three seasons combined (18). Some of this is to be expected with him already attempting more passes this season (378) than he threw all of last season (376 in 15 games).

The Ravens have continued to run the ball successfully, ranking third in the NFL with 147.1 rushing yards per game, but it's been more of a collective effort with many revolving parts (mainly because their three top running backs were lost to injuries before the season started). Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray have both had their moments, but Jackson is leading the team in rushing yards by far (762 vs. Freeman's 376) and carries (131 vs. 89), putting even more of the offensive burden on the quarterback.

The pass-catching corps has been pretty much a tag-team effort between wide receiver Marquise Brown (65 rec., 825 yds., 6 TDs) and tight end Mark Andrews (64, 811, 5) with very little production behind them. Rookie Rashod Bateman looked primed for a breakout but has seen his route totals drop since Sammy Watkins returned from injury. Cleveland did a good job of bottling up Baltimore in the first meeting, holding the Ravens to just a single touchdown and only 3.9 yards per play even though Jackson and company held on to the ball for more than 37 minutes. Of course, picking off four passes certainly doesn't hurt. So it's now up to Jackson to cut down on the mistakes, even if he continues to be primarily a one-man show.

3. Baker Mayfield
Mayfield entered the bye week dealing with a ton of ailments, including a foot and shoulder injury. Two weeks ago, he completed just 48.7 percent of his passes for 247 yards and a touchdown with one turnover (fumble). The problem is that he attempted 37 passes, which is not the formula for victory for this team. The last time Mayfield attempted that many passes was in the 22-17 Divisional Round loss to Kansas City. The Browns' offense usually thrives when it leans on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to grind out drives, eat up the clock and help keep the other offense off the field. In the Week 12 loss to Baltimore, Chubb and Hunt combined for 36 yards on 15 carries. That has to change this time. Cleveland won't have to deal with Humphrey, one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league, this time around but the Browns may not have the wide receivers to take advantage of his absence.

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Final Analysis

Last week I picked against the Ravens and it worked out. So I'm going to do it again. I'm a big believer in teams coming off byes late in the season. Cleveland gets healthy at a time after Baltimore just lost its No. 1 cornerback for the season. The Browns should have beaten the Ravens two weeks ago, but they'll take care of business at home this time.

Prediction: Browns 23, Ravens 17

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.