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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 December 2019 by Luke Jones

A Ravens win over Cleveland would tie the overall franchise record of 11 in a row in 2000, match the team record for wins in the regular season, and serve as a slice of revenge for the Browns’ upset victory in Week 4.

But Sunday is all about Baltimore clinching the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the postseason for the first time in team history.

“We have to go play our best game, and then there are going to be rewards for that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But we have to go play our best game. We have to beat a very good football team, and that’s the challenge.”

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 42nd time in the regular season with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 30-11 advantage and a 19-4 mark in the Harbaugh era. Cleveland is seeking its first season sweep since 2007, which was also the last time the Browns had a winning season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will begin the game with scores on their first two drives. Baltimore has scored on its opening drive 10 out of 14 times this season and has failed to score on its first three possessions of a game only once, which was the Browns’ 40-25 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 4. A fast start would further deflate a Cleveland team that looked completely disinterested in last week’s loss at Arizona, but a lethargic beginning for the Ravens might energize the Browns enough in their home finale to make this one interesting. If the Ravens haven’t suffered a letdown to this point, why would you expect one now?

2. Nick Chubb will rush for 90 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens will point out how much their personnel has changed since Cleveland ran for a season-high 193 yards against them in Week 4, but the Baltimore run defense still ranks 22nd in yards per carry allowed and 21st in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric. Despite ranking fifth in rushing yards allowed per game since they’re frequently holding big leads, the Ravens remain vulnerable on the edges, especially when playing in their preferred dime package. The Browns’ ground game is another reason why it’s critical for Baltimore to start fast.

3. Baltimore will crack 200 rushing yards for the eighth time this season. Mark Ingram needs 37 yards to give a team two 1,000-yard rushers in a season for the first time since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams did it for Carolina in 2009. The Browns are giving up 4.9 yards per carry and surrendered 6.0 yards per attempt in the Week 4 meeting. Just 336 rushing yards shy of the NFL’s 16-game single-season record owned by the 1978 New England Patriots, the Ravens will put themselves within easy striking distance of that entering Week 17. The edge here is mental as much as it’s physical.

4. Lamar Jackson will throw two touchdown passes and run for another. The Pro Bowl quarterback needs one touchdown pass to set a new franchise single-season record. However, two more touchdown throws will put the 22-year-old with Steve Young (1994) and Cam Newton (2015) as the only players in NFL history to have 35 touchdowns passes and seven touchdown runs in a single season. Both won the MVP award in those years with Jackson looking like a slam dunk for that honor as well. Ideally, Sunday would be Jackson’s last action of the regular season, so he’ll finish with a strong showing.

5. A plus-two turnover margin will help the Ravens to a 34-16 win. Week 4 still serves as a reminder of the talent the Browns possess, but the strong culture in Baltimore that’s helped cultivate the brilliant start to Jackson’s career serves as a stark contrast to what’s happened in Cleveland with first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens seemingly in over his head and the talented Baker Mayfield regressing in his second season. Mayfield has thrown for over 300 yards in each of his first three games against the Ravens, but he’s also thrown a total of five interceptions in those meetings. Meanwhile, Jackson has only nine interceptions in his 21 career starts. Taking care of the football matters, and it will in this one as the Ravens improve to 13-2 and cement the No. 1 seed while the Browns clinch another losing season.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 30 September 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers appeared to be two teams moving in opposite directions, but a single injury altered that thinking on Sunday.

A knee injury to Ben Roethlisberger not only puts the Steelers (2-1) in a holding pattern for at least the next few weeks while trying to survive with backup Michael Vick at the helm, but it gives the winless Ravens hope that they can go to Heinz Field on a short week and potentially steal their first victory of 2015. Of course, it won’t be easy for Baltimore with starting tight end Crockett Gillmore, starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, starting defensive end Chris Canty, and rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman all ruled out for Thursday night.

Searching for answers and knowing only three NFL teams have rebounded from an 0-3 start to make the NFL playoffs since 1990, the Ravens’ biggest enemy at this point might be themselves as a season full of high expectations has instead started in nightmare fashion for John Harbaugh’s team. It’s officially uncharted territory for a team that had never started 0-3 in franchise history and has made the playoffs in six of the last seven years.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Pittsburgh for the 39th time in their regular-season history as they own a 17-21 mark. The teams split a pair of games at Heinz Field last season, but Baltimore prevailed 30-17 over the Steelers in a wild-card playoff game last January.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 5-2 in Thursday night primetime games under Harbaugh …

1. Pittsburgh will control the tempo of the game by handing the ball to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams a combined 35 times. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley isn’t going to allow Vick to take many chances, leaving plenty of opportunities for these running backs. The Ravens rank fourth in the league allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, but the Steelers will spread out the defense to create just enough room for Bell and Williams to keep Vick in manageable down-and-distance situations.

2. Maxx Williams will catch his first touchdown and provide the Ravens with another threat behind Steve Smith. Considering how many issues the Pittsburgh defense has had with tight ends so far, Gillmore’s absence couldn’t have come at a worse time, but Williams will find room against linebackers who are poor in pass coverage. The bigger question will be how he and fellow rookie Nick Boyle fare as blockers with the Ravens desperately needing to get their struggling running game in order.

3. Brandon Williams will pick up his first sack of the season and create problems in the Pittsburgh backfield. There have been few bright spots on the Ravens’ 26th-ranked scoring defense, but Williams has been a force and the unit’s best player. With Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey out, the third-year nose tackle should dominate Cody Wallace by collecting his first quarterback takedown as well as a few other tackles for a loss to force more Pittsburgh runs to the perimeter on Thursday night.

4. Antonio Brown will still collect 100 yards receiving and a touchdown without Roethlisberger throwing to him. The Steelers likely won’t have Brown running as many downfield routes, but they will use bubble screens and other ways to get the ball to the playmaker in open space to put pressure on tacklers. It will be interesting to see if Dean Pees elects to have Jimmy Smith shadow Brown, but the Ravens better be ready to give him help against one of the top wide receivers in the NFL.

5. Vick will manage the game effectively while the Ravens lack the “it” factor to do what it takes in a 24-16 loss. I fully expect a Harbaugh-coached team to compete in this one and I’m tempted to pick the Ravens to win with Roethlisberger out, but last week was the game in which they needed to pull themselves off the mat and they still couldn’t do it. Many have cited Baltimore’s 5-1 record against Pittsburgh when Roethlisberger hasn’t played, but two active defensive players — Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan — took part in that last win in 2012, a game Brown also missed. The defense will be a little better than the last two weeks and the offense will find ways to move the ball, but the recurring theme of not being good enough in the fourth quarter will cost Baltimore again in a close one.

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