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Late for Work: Which AFC Team Stands the Best Chance of Knocking off the Ravens?

From left: QB Lamar Jackson, Cleveland Browns QB Joe Flacco
From left: QB Lamar Jackson, Cleveland Browns QB Joe Flacco

Pundits Believe Joe Flacco-Led Browns Are Capable of Upsetting Ravens

The Ravens have established themselves as the team to beat. So who in the AFC has the best chance of beating them?

Several of the NFL's talking heads discussed it, and the consensus is that it's the Joe Flacco-led Cleveland Browns.

"You think about being able to run the ball, being able to play defense, and having an experienced quarterback that's at least seen everything and seen it when he'll have to see the Baltimore Ravens, which is in the playoffs, that's why I like [the Browns] from a complete team standpoint," ESPN analyst and former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark said.

Former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan agreed with Clark.

"We think the same way because we've been part of defenses that all of a sudden can suffocate you," Ryan said. "We know Cleveland already beat them one time with an unbelievable performance by Deshaun Watson in the second half. Their defense might not be as good as Baltimore's, but they're close. They actually lead the NFL in total yardage. So their defense can hang with Baltimore's defense, so they're going to have a chance. I think the only way that Baltimore doesn't win the whole thing is if they turn the football over."

NFL Network's Brian Baldinger also believes the Browns are the only AFC team capable of knocking off the Ravens.

"They're hot — they've won four in a row; they play great defense; they've got a Defensive Coordinator (Jim Schwartz) that has won a Super Bowl, that would know how to game plan a little bit to try and contain this offense of theirs," Baldinger said. "And all of these backups [replacing injured starters] are now starters, so they've played a lot of football, including Flacco. And they've gone to Baltimore and beat Baltimore this year. They got a pick-six by Greg Newsome on Lamar Jackson that was a big play in the game. I'd say that's the one team right now because defensively I think they can cause some problems on this Ravens offense."

NFL Network's Rich Eisen believes the Buffalo Bills pose the biggest threat to the Ravens, but he also didn't discount Cleveland.

"I'm all for the Bills. I think that is 100 percent the team the Ravens would prefer to get knocked off somehow, some way, and that would open a path for the Ravens," Eisen said. "I think the Ravens could beat the Bills … but the Bills have the best chance.

"Another one is the Browns. You don't want to see division opponents [in the playoffs}, and you don't want to see division opponents that are playing nonstop ascendant football. And you don't want to see division teams that are on a full head of steam of momentum coming into your house with an air of invincibility thinking this is our year. Also, you don't want all of those together being quarterback by your former Super Bowl MVP in a run for the ages, which all Ravens fans know Joe Flacco can do in the playoffs."

ESPN's Dan Orlovsky said the Browns "do stand a chance" and the Bills' Josh Allen is capable of having "a remarkable quarterback performance" that will be needed for a team to beat the Ravens, but ultimately the only team that can stop the Ravens is the Ravens.

"The three losses Baltimore has this year: Pittsburgh, they beat themselves with the drops; Indianapolis, they beat themselves with fumbles and the weather; and then Deshaun's comeback," Orlovsky said. "So you're going to have to go beat them, and no one has this year."

Clark said that if Jackson and the Ravens are hitting on all cylinders, even "January Joe Flacco" can't knock them off.

"From what we've seen from Lamar in the last few weeks, we're just picking teams because we feel like having fun," Clark said. "With the way that they're playing, it don't matter if the Cleveland Browns come with Joe Flacco, Joe Namath, or Joe Montana."

Richard Sherman Doubles Down on Saying Jackson Shouldn't Win MVP

Richard Sherman is just trolling now. That's the only possible explanation for the "Undisputed" co-host stubbornly clinging to his insistence that Jackson should not win MVP this season.

Sherman said last week that Jackson's numbers weren't good enough to be the MVP. Despite Jackson throwing more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (three) and posting a perfect quarterback rating in the Ravens' 56-19 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Sherman doubled down on his take.

"That didn't move the needle," Sherman said. "It was a fantastic performance by Lamar Jackson at a time his team needed. It was a statement game late in the season in December. You gotta give him all the credit in the world. But five touchdowns in this game against the Miami Dolphins, as crazy as it sounds, are almost as many as he had in the months of September and November combined. In those months combined he had six touchdowns passing. So when you look at the full picture, I just don't see it."

Sherman went on to say that Jackson's 2023 stats pale in comparison to his numbers in his 2019 MVP season.

"If the numbers aren't there then there's just not much to say," Sherman said.

Actually, there is. Aaron Rodgers had 48 touchdown passes in his 2020 MVP season and repeated as MVP in 2021 despite 11 fewer TD passes. Peyton Manning had 49 touchdown passes in his 2004 MVP season and 27 in his 2008 MVP season.

Once again, Jackson is unfairly held to a different standard than other quarterbacks.

It seems that Sherman has as much difficulty admitting he is wrong as The Fonz.

Dolphins Beat Writer Gets Blasted for Criticizing John Harbaugh and Ravens for Scoring Late Touchdown

Speaking of bad takes, Joe Schad, who covers the Dolphins for the Palm Beach Post, had one on Sunday when he criticized Head Coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens for Tyler Huntley throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Kolar with less than three minutes left in the game and the Ravens up by 30.

Schad went on to write an article about the situation, describing the touchdown as "distasteful" and "unnecessary."

Many people on Twitter were quick to point out to Schad that he applauded the Dolphins for scoring 70 in a 50-point win over the Denver Broncos in Week 3.

Awful Announcing’s Ben Axelrod questioned Schad's take and said the Ravens did nothing wrong.

"Although the Ravens were certainly still being aggressive with the game's outcome in hand, they were also in no man's land on this particular play," Axelrod wrote. "Facing a third-and-goal from the Miami 19-yard line with 2:28 still left in the game, it was still too early to take a knee. And while they could have called a running play, that could also result in an injury. So why not play out the situation as if the game was still competitive, especially with your backups already in the game? Would settling for a field goal and a 52-19 score really save the Dolphins that much embarrassment?"

Dolphins Head Coach Mike McDaniel did not take issue with the Ravens throwing for a touchdown with a big lead.

"I don't really have any thoughts in terms of the opposing team's decision making," McDaniel said. "When you have a lead of multiple scores, you're free to do whatever you want. We have to defend it, and we didn't."

Todd Monken Earns Praise for Offensive Explosion

The Ringer’s Ben Solak praised Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken for his role in the Ravens' offensive explosion against the Dolphins.

"Monken opened up some of the easiest passing touchdowns you'll ever see against a stingy Dolphins defense," Solak wrote. "The Zay Flowers 75-yarder late in the first half, when the game was still close? That's the exact sort of motion and route that opposing offensive designer Mike McDaniel popularized.

"Or what about Likely's second touchdown and this one from Patrick Ricard? Both were the same design, and both were a nice wrinkle off of a common red concept we're seeing around the league."

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