Slim Majority of Pundits Pick Browns to Beat Ravens
It sure feels like the Ravens have been defying the odds all season, but they've actually been favored in 10 of their 12 games. The only times they were underdogs was in Week 2 at home against Kansas City and Week 4 in Denver.
Baltimore won both games, so perhaps that bodes well for Sunday's game in Cleveland, where the Browns are favored by 2.5 points.
The AFC North-leading Ravens (8-4), coming off a 20-19 defeat last week in Pittsburgh, haven't lost consecutive games this season, but a slim majority of the pundits we looked at (24 of 46) are predicting that to change on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
That's a stark contrast from two weeks ago, when 44 of 49 pundits picked the Ravens to beat the visiting Browns. Baltimore won that game, 16-10, and is 5-1 against Cleveland since Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback.
The Browns (6-6), who are coming off their bye week, have little margin for error regarding their playoff hopes.
Here's a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:
The Browns' potent running game was shut down by the Ravens two weeks ago but it'll get back on track and be the difference.
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley: "Bold prediction: The Browns will run for more than 150 yards against the NFL's top-ranked run defense. Two weeks ago, Baltimore held Cleveland to its season low in rushing yards (40). But the Browns know their winning formula is committing to the run (5-1 when rushing over 30 times), and Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the healthiest part of Cleveland's offense."
Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer: "Baltimore just can't seem to get that running game revved up. The Browns are getting healthier in their ground game, and between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt they control the clock in this one."
CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco: "The Ravens have struggled on offense in a big way for much of the past month. The Browns have, too, but I think their run game will be the difference in this one. They run to a victory and keep Lamar Jackson contained."
CBS Sports’ Will Brinson: "Feels like a big Nick Chubb game."
The season-ending injury to Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey is too much for the Ravens to overcome.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio: "You can only take so many hits from an injury standpoint until it reaches critical mass. To the extent that Marlon Humphrey's absence actually was a factor in John Harbaugh's decision to go for two instead of play for overtime, that tells you what their concern level is. Now if any coach can overcome it, it's Harbaugh, but I just think we're asking too much. Especially when you consider that on the same day the Ravens were in the hard-fought battle with Pittsburgh, the Browns were doing nothing other than refining their approach to their next game against the Ravens, the team they most recently played."
CBS Sports’ John Breech: "It has been MORE THAN A MONTH since either of these teams scored 20 points in a game, so it kind of feels like the first team to 20 is going to win and I'm going to say that team is going to be the Browns, but only because I think the Ravens defense is going to struggle a little bit in its first game without Marlon Humphrey."
The Ravens will overcome adversity yet again.
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal: "The Ravens are reeling after losing star cornerback Marlon Humphrey for the season and surprise standout right tackle Patrick Mekari for a few weeks. There's reason to believe they have reached the point of no return on the injury front, and Lamar Jackson hasn't played his best in two months, struggling badly against the blitz lately. The Browns, coming off a bye week following their last loss to the Ravens, are as healthy as they've been all season outside of their tight ends. All those factors will make it tougher for Cleveland to swallow when Lamar makes some crazy play late to win this game."
The Athletic's Jay Morrison: "Even though [Baltimore's] offense has issues and the defense is shredded with injuries, Baltimore has found a way to bounce back from each of its previous three losses with gritty wins. It'll happen again Sunday."
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker: "The Ravens shut down Cleveland's running game and protected Lamar Jackson in their Week 12 victory over the Browns. If they do those things again, they will have a good chance. But their task will be harder without Marlon Humphrey and with their offensive line down a starting tackle. Both teams are struggling on offense and both need a win. Give a slight nod to the Ravens based on their greater track record of resourcefulness."
The Browns are the healthier and more-rested team — but the Ravens will win anyway.
NFL.com’s Marc Sessler: "Lamar has struggled against the blitz, but escapes criticism for his turnovers because of the magic he spins. The defense casts spells, too, holding a mighty Browns ground game to 40 yards at 2.4 yards per try two weeks ago. When Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt fail to author explosive plays, Cleveland's identity vanishes. Trust in Baker Mayfield has withered up, too, over the past month. The Browns look better on paper; the Ravens win fights in real life."
Jackson vs. Browns DE Myles Garrett is one of the best matchups of the week.
"Good Morning Football's" Kyle Brandt: "Maybe the most talented guys at their individual positions who get to play twice a year in a really bitter rivalry. It's like a couple 'American Gladiators' out there. I don't know who you pick in this one. I just love that we get to watch it this weekend and hopefully for the next decade. Myles Garrett versus Lamar Jackson [is] tough to beat."
|ESPN||5 of 10 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|Baltimore Sun||Ravens 23, Browns 20||“Both teams are struggling on offense and both need a win. Give a slight nod to the Ravens based on their greater track record of resourcefulness.”|
|USA Today||5 of 7 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|NFL.com||Ravens 20, Browns 19||“There's reason to believe [the Ravens] have reached the point of no return on the injury front, and Lamar Jackson hasn't played his best in two months, struggling badly against the blitz lately. The Browns, coming off a bye week following their last loss to the Ravens, are as healthy as they've been all season outside of their tight ends. All those factors will make it tougher for Cleveland to swallow when Lamar makes some crazy play late to win this game.” — Gregg Rosenthal|
|NFL Network||6 of 10 panelists pick Browns||NA|
|Sporting News||Ravens 23, Browns 20||“Jackson's legs are still a big factor and can make a big difference in this type of grinding defensive struggle. The Ravens' blitzing gets to [Baker] Mayfield to contain the Browns' offense.” — Vinnie Iyer|
|CBS Sports||6 of 7 panelists pick Browns||“The Ravens are playing a second straight division road game, while the Browns are coming off a bye. Advantage Cleveland. The Ravens have struggled on offense in a big way for much of the past month. The Browns have, too, but I think their run game will be the difference in this one. They run to a victory and keep Lamar Jackson contained.” — Pete Prisco|
|Pro Football Talk||2 of 3 panelists pick Browns||“The Browns benefit from the bye, especially against a Ravens team that is losing the war of attrition.” — Mike Florio|
|Sports Illustrated||3 of 5 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|FanSided||Browns 22, Ravens 20||“Huge game in the AFC North, and with the Browns coming off their bye week, expect their best showing in a while. Also, the loss of Marlon Humphrey for Baltimore is enormous.” — Matt Verderame|
Criticism of Greg Roman for Struggling Offense Is Off Base
With the Ravens' once-potent offense mired in a weeks-long slump, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has been under scrutiny. Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed contends that blaming Roman is off base.
"The biggest problem for the Ravens on offense more than Roman's play-calls/designs or what appears to be a lack of adjustments at times is the execution and discipline of the players themselves and they'll be the first to admit it," Reed wrote.
"Pre-snap penalties, holding penalties and inconsistent quarterback play have made him an easy scapegoat and target of criticism. If the Ravens players can start executing more consistently and Roman can continue to dig into his vault and keep defenses on their toes with creative unpredictable play-calling as he did on the Ravens' first drive against the Steelers this past Sunday, this offense could get things turned around fast."
There's been much discussion about the Ravens' struggles to counter pressure in the form of blitzes, especially Cover-0. Again, Reed said it's more about execution than anything else.
"There have been several instances since [the Miami] game where he has called plays allowing Jackson to just dump the ball off underneath to an outlet if nothing develops downfield quickly enough," Reed wrote. "He just hasn't taken those easy throws that would be the equivalent to layups in basketball and instead opts to hold on to the ball too long behind an already struggling offensive line for 'coverage' sacks or waits until the last minute to decide to attempt to flee a quickly crumbling pocket."
The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer broke down all of Jackson's sacks from Pittsburgh and highlighted how he had open targets at the time.
The Baltimore Sun’s Walker said that in addition to Jackson's problematic decision-making and failure to get the ball out quicker, inconsistent play from the offensive line and a drop-off in the running game also have been factors in the offense's difficulty beating blitzes.
"Their left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, has not played up to his former standard as a pass blocker, and their right tackle, Tyre Phillips, looked helpless Sunday against Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro T.J. Watt. With running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards out, they do not have a historically great ground game to divert defensive attention from their quarterback," Walker wrote.