It all comes down to this.
The Ravens need a victory (and help) this Sunday against the Browns to reach the playoffs.
Baltimore doesn't have complete control over whether it will reach the postseason, but it has control over whether it gives itself a chance.
"Unfortunately, we haven't done enough thus far to [clinch], but Sunday presents another opportunity, and we're looking forward to it," defensive end Chris Canty said. "An opportunity is all you can ask for. In football, in life, an opportunity is all you can ask for."
Three Matchups To Watch
CB Lardarius Webb vs. WR Andrew HawkinsWebb had his best game of the season last week against the Texans. He'll need to continue that against Hawkins. With top Browns threat, wide receiver Josh Gordon, suspended for violating team rules, Hawkins figures to get a lot of targets. The elusive speedster caught a game-high seven passes for 87 yards in the teams' Week 3 meeting. With Gordon out, Hawkins is the Browns' big-play weapon.
OT James Hurst vs. OLB Paul KrugerHurst may get the start at right tackle with Rick Wagner sidelined, or could start in place of Eugene Monroe (ankle) if he can't play. Either way, Hurst will likely line up opposite Kruger for part or much of the game. Kruger, a former Raven, has had a stronger second season with the Browns, notching 10 sacks this year as opposed to just 4.5 last year. Hurst started four games earlier this year and had to match up with Houston's All-World J.J. Watt last week, so he's been tested.
WR Torrey Smith vs. CB Joe HadenSmith scored two touchdowns this week, but hasn't made a big play in recent games. He'll look to take fellow Maryland product Haden deep. Haden, a Pro Bowler a year ago, hasn't been as much of a lockdown threat this season. The Ravens need somebody to take pressure off the running game, as well as open up the middle of the field for Steve Smith Sr.
Three Keys To The Game
Start FasterA common thread to the offense's struggles the past three weeks have been slow starts. In the last three games, the Ravens have put up an NFL-worst 54 yards and no points in the opening quarter. The entire offense is predicated on being able to run the ball, and it's difficult to do that when trying to battle out of a hole.
Run Ball EffectivelyAs stated, the offense has to run the ball to work. The Ravens posted just 33 rushing yards in Houston and the past two games it's just been 126 yards. The Browns have the lowest-ranked run defense in the league, allowing 142.4 yards per game. Even though Baltimore's offensive line is banged up, it needs to win in the trenches versus Cleveland. If not, it could be another long day for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Rattle The RookieThe Ravens defense faced fourth-string quarterback Case Keenum last week. They'll get somebody with even less experience this week in Browns third-string undrafted rookie Connor Shaw. With Johnny Manziel out and Brian Hoyer (shoulder) doubtful, the South Carolina product is in line to start. Shaw hasn't played in an NFL regular-season game. The Ravens pass rush, which didn't sack Keenum, needs to get going this week.