Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

December 21, 2019 | 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.