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Eisenberg: Ravens Itching to Settle a Score


Given the Cleveland Browns' miniscule chances of making the AFC playoffs, their rematch with the Ravens Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium probably affords them a final shot at achieving something special in 2019.

They've already beaten the Ravens once. You know they'd dearly love to do it again, end Baltimore's 10-game winning streak and complete a home-and-home sweep of their division rivals, who are currently regarded as leading Super Bowl contenders.

In that sense, Sunday's game amounts to the Browns' Super Bowl. I'm sure some observers will conclude they're more fired up than the Ravens, who will compete for far greater stakes come January, regardless of what happens Sunday.

But I think that conclusion is fundamentally flawed.

True, the Ravens will play more important games down the line. But they'll be just as motivated as the Browns Sunday, and not only because of what a win would mean for their playoff seeding. They also want paybacks.

The last time the teams met, the Brows put a thorough whipping on the Ravens. I'm sure you remember Cleveland's 40-25 victory. The Ravens were humiliated in front of their home fans. Baker Mayfield threw for 342 yards. Nick Chubb rushed for 165 yards, topped by an 88-yard sprint on which he reached the end one untouched.

A lot has changed for the Ravens since then. They've rebuilt their defense, which struggled mightily that day; now it is one of the league's best. They've won 10 straight games, barely trailing at any point along the way, while their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, has gone from a curiosity to the likely league MVP.

All told, they're rolling like they never have before, even when they won Super Bowls in 2000 and 2012.

If you think they've forgotten about that first game against Cleveland and don't care about exacting revenge on the one team that truly whipped them this season, you don't know how football players think.

They haven't forgotten that game, just like you haven't forgotten it. And they want to even the score, set the record straight, etc.

As their record indicates, the 12-2 Ravens are clearly superior to the 6-8 Browns this season. But they want to make that case where it matters most to them – on the field.

As you may have noticed, Jackson hates losing. He recently brought up the Ravens' playoff loss last January, which still bugs him almost a year later. He has lost twice to the Kansas City Chiefs as an NFL starting quarterback, which, you can bet, will be a factor if the teams meet again in January.

The Ravens' quarterback hasn't yet weighed in on playing the Browns for a second time in 2019, but rest assured, he really wants to right what went wrong the first time.

Even without adding that personal element to Sunday's matchup, the Ravens have all the motivation they need. With a win, they'll lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. That's a bounty of riches.

Yes, they also could secure the same benefits by winning a week later in their regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, so they aren't under dire pressure Sunday. But obviously, the sooner they can lock up the No. 1 seed, the better.

When they take the field Sunday, though, my guess is they'll be thinking less about seeding and more about paybacks.

Admittedly, the first game between the teams wasn't unusually chippy outside of the grappling incident between Marlon Humphrey and Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns didn't publicly crow after they won. They just said they did a good job, which was true. They complimented Jackson even though he tossed two interceptions.

But the absence of fighting and/or widespread trash talking won't change how the Ravens feel now that the rematch is at hand. Believe me, NFL players are motivated far less by fighting and trash talking than the memory of absorbing a whipping.

That's what happened to the Ravens against Cleveland back in September, and while they do have more important games to play soon, they're itching to settle a score first.

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