The stage is set for the biggest game of the year, and it’s against… the Browns? Yes, you read that correctly, the Baltimore Ravens’ biggest, most important game of the season is a matchup against the Cleveland Browns. As the Browns proved earlier in the year, they are no longer the laughing stock of the league. Instead of the bottom dweller the Browns typically are, Cleveland set themselves apart this season by playing well and defeating good opponents. The Browns are on the verge of a winning record, a feat last accomplished in 2007. The only thing that stands in their way is the 9-6 Baltimore Ravens, who with a win, will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and win the AFC North for the first time since 2012. To win this game, the Ravens have to dominate in three key areas.
Ravens Must Dominate Ground Game
The most important key to a Ravens victory is the run game. Baltimore’s offense completely transformed around Lamar Jackson once the rookie quarterback took hold of the starting job. Baltimore turned from a pass-heavy offense that barely ran, to a run-heavy offense that barely passed. When the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Ravens in the early half of the season, the Ravens were still branding their offense as an aerial assault. Now, the Ravens can throw a different mode of attack at the Browns. If the ground game can dominate, the Ravens can work their magic. The rushing attack effectively moves the offense and keeps the ball out of enemy hands. This will be crucial to the winning effort.
Ravens Must Confuse Baker Mayfield
Defensive coordinator, Don “Wink” Martindale will need to get his defense in shape to pair up against the rookie quarterback sensation, Baker Mayfield. Mayfield has come a long way since the two parties last met in October. Mayfield is quickly developing into one of the better passers in the league, and the Ravens will have their task cut out for them this week. In order to stop Mayfield, Martindale will need to send out confusing looks, and formations that the young signal caller has never seen before. Martindale needs to confuse Mayfield and produce situations where the quarterback will stumble and make mistakes. It will be difficult to do this, however, as Mayfield is one of the most competitive quarterbacks, and is not rattled easily. His experience all season has built up to this moment, and will likely be able to play at a high level.
Ravens Must Prevent an Efficient Passing Attack
The final piece of the puzzle the Ravens must put in place to prevent an efficient passing attack. Baker Mayfield may feel confused or uneasy at times, but he will still look to make plays. He has prolific weapons in wide receiver Jarvis Landry and tight end David Njoku. Mayfield even has the option of going to the former Raven, Breshad Perriman, who is having a solid year in his new home so far. If the Baltimore Ravens want to stop this Cleveland Browns offense, they will need to shut down the receivers. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Tavon Young will all need to prevent the receivers from running rampant in the secondary. The inside linebackers will also need to shake off the “not good in coverage” persona, and tighten up coverage against the tight ends.
The Baltimore Ravens will win a close game against the Cleveland Browns. I expect the score to fluctuate throughout, with both teams being in the lead each at some point in the game. The Ravens will take the lead and hold on to it late in the fourth quarter, and stop a Cleveland Browns drive down the field to win the game. The final Browns play with either be an interception or a turnover on downs. The final score will be 24-17 in the Ravens favor.