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Monday Night Football: Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns Prediction and Preview

Monday Night Football: Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns Prediction and Preview

Monday Night Football: Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns Prediction and Preview

It wouldn't have been a major surprise at the start of the season for Week 14's "Monday Night Football" matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns to have heavy playoff implications.

Both teams had postseason aspirations, after all. But no one would've expected the season to play out this way.

The Ravens, the No. 1 seed in the AFC just last season, are out of the current playoff picture at 7-5, even with an additional wild-card team. Football Outsiders still gives them a 54.6 percent chance of making the playoffs because they have the second-easiest remaining strength of schedule (at Browns, Jaguars, Giants, at Bengals), but every win is crucial with them also needing to leapfrog the Raiders.

Cleveland, meanwhile, has a chance for its first double-digit-win season with three games left behind the league's second-best rushing attack. But barring an epic collapse by the 11-1 Steelers, the AFC North title is out of the picture, so the Browns will have to fend off a bevy of other wild-card contenders as it holds a one-game lead over the Dolphins and Colts.

Clearly, a lot has changed since these teams met up in Week 1. Baltimore delivered a 38-6 beatdown, and these teams looked very much like their 2019 incarnations. Round 2 carries more playoff implications than perhaps almost any game on the Week 14 schedule, and it will tell us a lot about their potential the rest of the way.

Monday Night Football: Baltimore at Cleveland

Kickoff: Monday, Nov. 14 at 8:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Spread: Ravens -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Can the Browns keep their play-action attack rolling?

The Browns hired Kevin Stefanski as their new head coach because they wanted to revamp their offense, and his strength in the play-action game was a big selling point. Baker Mayfield was third in the NFL in touchdowns in play-action, and Kirk Cousins, who played under Stefanski, led the category.

Some of Cleveland's best moments this season have come via play-action. One notable example was last week when the Browns scored two touchdowns on the Titans, including a 75-yard pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones. The Ravens have a much better defense, especially against play-action, than the Titans do, but this is still the Browns' bread and butter.

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The key to effectively running it will be 1) running the ball well and 2) staying out of third-and-long situations. Baltimore's run defense has been rather average this season at 4.4 yards per carry allowed (18th in the NFL), and the Browns ran for 135 yards in their first meeting, so the first should be possible. And by avoiding sacks — Mayfield has taken just six in his last six games — the Browns can be in a position where running the ball is a credible threat.

2. Can Lamar Jackson get back on track?

Jackson has not been the same passing threat this season as teams have worked to take the middle of the field away from him. That's where he's most comfortable throwing the ball and where his skill position players are best suited. Jackson hasn't posted 250 passing yards since the season opener against the Browns and hasn't averaged eight yards per pass attempt since Week 4.

The Ravens didn't need to use Jackson much last week against Dallas since the running game was so potent — 294 yards on 37 attempts, including 94 on 13 attempts from Jackson — but he was efficient when needed. Going 12-for-17 for 107 yards with two touchdowns and a pick gave him a 78.7 QB rating, his best in the last five weeks.

This could be another great opportunity for Jackson to show off his arm. The Browns, who are ranked 23rd against the pass, have been particularly susceptible against tight ends. Watch out for Mark Andrews, if he returns from the reserve/COVID-19 list, as hauled in five passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns in their first meeting.

3. Which team will generate more pressure?

This could apply to just about any matchup, but both the Browns and Ravens have the potential to make a big impact here. Even though they only rank 13th and 16th in the league in sacks, respectively, they each have stars who can give opposing offensive coordinators nightmares.

The Ravens have an intimidating front headlined by Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, although the latter is still seeing his playing time ramp up after arriving midseason from Minnesota. Baltimore blitzes a league-high 42.2 percent of the time, which will be a big change of pace for Mayfield, who was only pressured once against a Titans team that blitzes 28.5 percent of the time. And Mayfield has especially struggled while under pressure: Even before last week's performance, Pro Football Focus gave him a 29.8 grade under pressure and an 86.8 mark in a clean pocket.

Amazingly, Jackson has managed to avoid sacks well after the team lost star left tackle Ronnie Stanley in Week 9; he has just taken five in the last four games after 19 in his first seven. The obvious player to watch for Cleveland will be Myles Garrett, who led the league with 9.5 sacks before testing positive for COVID-19, and notched another in his return to the field last week.

Final Analysis

The teams have converged since they first met to open the season, but keep in mind that their records don't say everything. The Browns may have a two-game lead in the standings, but the Ravens' point differential (+85) is 100 points better than the Browns' mark (-15). That's ominous for this game, even at FirstEnergy Stadium.

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Despite their bounce-back passing performances last week, you can expect to see a lot of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and J.K. Dobbins this week. Given the Ravens are stronger on that side of the ball, they'll have the clear edge on Monday night, but this should be a fascinating game.

Prediction: Ravens 27, Browns 23