Predictions for Ravens vs. Browns
The majority of pundits are picking the Ravens to leave Cleveland on Sunday with a victory. Of the 56 analysts listed below, 50 of them predict a Baltimore win. That's 89 percent.
A win on Sunday would give the Ravens a 19-2 record against the Browns with Head Coach John Harbaugh at the helm and quarterback Joe Flacco under center. It would also be the Ravens' fifth-straight win at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Here are a few predictions that pundits see happening Sunday that'll lead to a Ravens victory:
1. Baltimore's defense will be the key to the matchup.
Pundits see the group making life difficult for Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield in his first home start, with some envisioning cornerback Jimmy Smith having an impact in his first game back from suspension.
"The Ravens have won five in a row against them and four in a row in Cleveland. This has the potential to be different, with the Browns running up 42 points on the Raiders last week in their overtime loss. Baker Mayfield also turned it over four times, and that's a bad habit to have against this Baltimore defense, which gets Jimmy Smith back after his suspension," Sporting News' David Steele wrote.
"Baker Mayfield will take some lumps against a Baltimore defense that is one of the best in the NFL," Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith wrote.
"The way the Ravens defense is playing will make for tough going for Baker Mayfield. Ravens win it," said CBS Sports' Pete Prisco.
"Baker Mayfield is a wild card here, but the Ravens defense is healthy and whole," The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck wrote.
2. The Browns show they're an improved bunch, but aren't able to pull it out.
3. Back-to-back divisional games weighs on the Ravens and makes this contest close.
"The Ravens are playing consecutive road games and are coming off an emotional victory over the Steelers. That can be draining. That's why this game will be close," Prisco wrote.
4. It comes down to a battle of special teams, which, led by kicker Justin Tucker, the Ravens win.
"Even if Baker Mayfield keeps the Browns close, the Ravens have the special teams to win a nail-biter. The Browns don't," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote.
Edward Lee was the lone Baltimore Sun pundit to pick the Browns to beat the Ravens. Lee is buying into the Browns' resurgence, and predicts a surprising end to the game on Sunday that also involves special teams.
"Free safety Eric Weddle has opened back-to-back postgame conferences by crooning that these aren't the same old Ravens. The same could be said for the Browns, who have played better and seem to be more energized with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield under center," Lee wrote. "In a stunning upset, kicker Greg Joseph will send Cleveland to victory with a last-minute field goal."
Lee isn't the only one who sees an upset in Cleveland.
"I like the Browns in this game. I'm taking them," said ESPN's Darren Woodson on NFL Live. "My heart is back. I got my heart back. It's about Myles Garrett and that defense getting after Joe Flacco. I think this is going to be the upset of the week."
"I think the Ravens see the Browns as a legitimate threat," Tedy Bruschi replied, citing Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale comparing Mayfield to Brett Favre and John Elway yesterday. "It's going to motivate that defense. I am taking the Ravens; they'll be ready to go. This upset won't happen."
Pro Football Focus Throws Out Wild Trade of C.J. Mosley to Broncos
With a quarter of the NFL season gone, the Pro Football Focus analysis team put together a trade that they would like to see each team in the NFL pursue.
In addition to having a trade proposed for them, the PFF team also had four different Ravens getting traded. Unrealistic to say the least, but below are the trades PFF came up with.
Ravens send inside linebacker C.J. Mosley to Denver Broncos: No doubt, the Broncos would be very excited if this played out, but it's highly unlikely the Ravens even remotely consider this. Mosley is the centerpiece of Baltimore's defense, and though he's in the final year of his first contract, he's expressed he would like to stay in Baltimore. PFF has the Ravens receiving a third-round pick from the Broncos.
From PFF's perspective, the reason Baltimore would consider this is because of Mosley's recent knee bruise injury. Though Mosley has missed just three starts in his career, PFF referred to him as "oft-injured." Huh?
"Even when he is healthy, Baltimore's backup linebackers, Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor, haven't let the defense down enough to keep Mosley off the trade block," PFF wrote.
Let's also consider that even if Mosley left in free agency next offseason, the Ravens would almost assuredly get a third-round compensatory draft pick in 2020. Soooo, try again.
Ravens acquire guard Jamon Brown from Los Angeles Rams: PFF believes the Ravens need to sure up the interior of their offensive line, and thinks Brown makes a good fit. The trade would involve the Ravens sending a fifth-round pick to the Rams. Brown was a third-round selection in 2015 that has 30 NFL starts, but none this season.
Ravens send outside linebacker Tim Williams to Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings haven't gotten as much pressure on the quarterback as they did in 2017, and PFF believes Williams would help with that. PFF has the Ravens receiving a fifth-round pick from the Vikings.
"Williams was a pass-rushing force in college, and while he has taken time to adjust to the NFL, he has flashed ability as a pass rushing specialist with six total pressures from 53 rushes this season," PFF wrote.
Ravens send cornerback Brandon Carr to Carolina Panthers: With Smith returning, the Ravens suddenly have a surplus of talented cornerbacks. PFF thinks the Panthers would be wise to send a conditional third-round pick to the Ravens for Carr. Though PFF's logic is understandable, the Ravens planned to have a lot of quality cornerbacks this season, and there has been no indication that has changed.
"Carr has been the Ravens' highest-graded cornerback at 72.5 so far this season, but with Smith returning, 2017 first-round draft pick Marlon Humphrey performing well and Tavon Young better suited to the slot than Carr, he is somewhat expendable for the Ravens right now," PFF wrote.
Ravens send quarterback Robert Griffin III to San Francisco 49ers: LFW covered this topic last week, but PFF thinks it's a trade that would make sense for both sides. The 49ers lost to the Chargers, 29-27, this past Sunday in their first game since quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's season ended with a torn ACL. PFF has the 49ers sending a conditional sixth-round pick to Baltimore for Griffin.
"Griffin can still add value, as he recorded the highest passer rating under pressure (149.5) among qualifying signal-callers in the preseason," PFF wrote.
Cleveland Will Look to Run the Ball Often
A lot of the headlines heading into Sunday's game are focused on Mayfield, which is understandable because he was the first-overall pick and it's his first home start.
Though Mayfield is coming off a solid start against the Oakland Raiders, the Browns' bread and butter this year on offense has been the run game. In fact, Cleveland leads the league in rushing yards this season (611) and trails only the Dallas Cowboys in yards per attempt (5.6).
Mayfield will need to play well for Cleveland to get the win. However, the Ravens have done a good job against quarterbacks this season, compiling the lowest opposing passer rating (69.1) per game in the NFL. That's without Smith, who is expected to suit up this Sunday.
As a result, don't be surprised to see a heavy dosage of Cleveland's running back trio of Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson Jr. on Sunday.
"The fact of the matter is that Cleveland has big-play capability and it's not all just because of Mayfield," Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler wrote.
Baltimore's run defense is coming off easily its best game of the season, holding Pittsburgh to 19 yards on the ground. Admittedly, that number is a little misleading because the Steelers attempted just 11 rushes.
On the season, the Ravens are allowing 82.5 rushing yards per game, which is fourth-lowest in the league. However, the unit is allowing 3.9 yards per carry, which is tied for No. 21 in the NFL.
PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz thinks the key to the run defense will be defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who had a stand out game against Pittsburgh.
Though Williams will need to play well, Schisler is confident Baltimore's depth will be crucial to slowing Cleveland's ground attack.
"The Ravens having [defensive tackle] Michael Pierce back was a huge deal," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens have a lot of guys up front that can stuff the run."
Cleveland's Slot Cornerback Situation Could Mean Big Day for Willie Snead IV
Wide receiver Willie Snead IV should have a big performance this Sunday, according to Baltimore Beatdown's Vasilis Lericos.
Lericos' reasoning is what's happening in the Cleveland secondary. Cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who had been playing in the slot a good amount, broke his wrist against the Oakland Raiders last Sunday. T.J. Carrie, primarily a nickel corner, stepped in for Mitchell and, as Lericos put it, "his coverage was exposed by Oakland's receivers."
Should the Browns stick with him in the slot, Lericos expects "Flacco to target Carrie throughout the game, especially with his reliable chain-mover Snead."
There's a chance the Browns don't keep Carrie in the slot though. According to Lericos, the Browns could shuffle their secondary and possibly use safeties Damarious Randall and/or Briean Boddy-Calhoun at corner.
In fact, Russell Street Report's Michael Telford thinks the Browns will go with Boddy-Calhoun in the slot on Sunday.
Whoever lines up against him, it looks like Snead will have a chance to make some plays. He's coming off a six-catch, 56-yard performance against the Steelers, both of which were season-highs for him.
- Unsurprising considering he was just named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month, but Justin Tucker is the highest-rated kicker in the NFL, according to PFF.
- Kasinitz also thinks the Ravens will need a big game from defensive end Brent Urban against the Browns. "Mayfield is a creative playmaker who has a knack for scrambling out of trouble — and often scampering downfield," Kasinitz wrote. "Containing Mayfield will be a team effort, but it'd be a big help if Urban could set the edge and put occasional pressure on Cleveland's rookie signal-caller."