Late for Work 12/14: Majority Picks Ravens to Beat Browns on Monday Night Football

121420-LFW
QB Lamar Jackson

Predictions Split for Ravens vs. Browns

In a tight AFC playoff race, every week is a "must-win" game. But a win tonight would go an especially long way in helping the Ravens in their pursuit of a playoff berth. On the slate is a road game against a surging AFC North opponent in the Cleveland Browns (9-3).

When these two teams met at the beginning of the season, it was one-sided. The Ravens (7-5) dominated in a 38-6 Week 1 victory. Since then, a lot has changed.

"The Ravens have solid odds of winning out to end the regular season and compete for a wild-card spot, but even that will be very tough to pull off," Baltimore Beatdown's Adrian Charchalis wrote. "Compared to Week 1, the Browns are very much improved, as head coach Kevin Stefanski has done a wonderful job in establishing a team identity on both sides of the football."

There plenty at stake for both sides heading into Monday night. The Browns are almost a lock to make the playoffs, but still have a shot at an AFC North title, while the Ravens can continue their push for a wild-card berth.

Despite the Ravens being a near unanimous pick in the Week 1 matchup, pundits are more split on their predictions (15 pick Browns, 27 pick Ravens) heading into Monday night, and Vegas has the Ravens narrowly favored (-1 or -3 depending on where you check).

Here's a sample of what is being said about the game:

Ravens have the advantage in a "must-win" game.

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal: "My head says the Ravens' defense will be a far sterner test, with both offenses more dangerous when running and vulnerable when run against. Baltimore needs this game more and has been in this type of game many more times. Experience wins the day."

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: "This is a huge game for both teams, but it's more important for the Ravens. They need this a big way to keep their playoff hopes alive. But it's more of a proving game for the Browns. I think the Ravens will come in and play with their season on the line and I think will get a tough hard-nosed victory."

Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith: "It's a must-win game for the Ravens with the Browns surprisingly ahead of them in the AFC wild-card race. I see the Ravens pulling out a close one."

These aren't the same Browns from Week 1

92.3 The Fan's Daryl Ruiter: "The Browns' opener couldn't have gone much worse than the 38-6 beating they took in Baltimore back on Sept. 13. … Baltimore and Cleveland have since flipped positions in the standings. The Browns lead the Ravens by two full games and have won four straight and can set an expansion record with a fifth consecutive victory Monday night."

Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz: "Much has changed since the Ravens waxed the Browns in the season-opener about three months ago. While Baltimore has struggled to sustain the type of offensive firepower it showed off in Week 1 and dealt with one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in sports, Cleveland began to establish itself as a true contender in the AFC."

Browns Wire's Jeff Risdon: "The first week was weird. New coach, new offense, overhauled defense — all with no preseason and no real trial by fire. The Ravens were the fire, and the Browns failed the trial miserably. Stefanski deserves a lot of the credit for the way he handled his team in the face of a humiliating blowout loss."

Ravens must slow down Nick Chubb and the Browns' rushing attack.

Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens: "[A]gainst this Browns offense that is firing on all cylinders, giving them a potent rushing attack will force the Ravens to take away from their pass rush to stop him, giving quarterback Baker Mayfield clean pockets and time to pick apart the secondary. Baltimore can't necessarily commit everything to stop Chubb but if he has a big game, the Ravens' defense is in trouble everywhere."

Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler: "I really don't think the Browns run game gets stopped in this game. The Ravens just have to slow it down. Cleveland is just that good at running the football. If the Browns have less than 100 on the ground that is probably going to have to work for Don Martindale. The Ravens gave up 138 rushing yards in the season opener and won 38-6. Cleveland is going to make some plays on the ground."

Mark Andrews' return will be a boost for the offense.

Forbes' Jimmy Watkins: "Cleveland has allowed the seventh-most yards and third-most receptions and touchdowns to tight ends this season. Andrews has at least shared the Ravens lead for targets in six of 12 their games. … Baltimore gives linebackers and safeties a lot to think about and look at with their read-option-heavy rushing attack, and Andrews has caught five touchdowns in his last three games against Cleveland."

Russell Street Report's Brad Drotar: "In his first game back from the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Andrews will be well rested and fired up to be back on the field. … With a formidable pass rush that is bound to make their way into the pocket to pressure Jackson, he will look early and often to his most reliable target that can haul in those 50/50 balls. He will also be Jackson's first option in the red zone. Don't believe me? Just look at what Andrews did against the Browns in Week 1."

Table inside Article
Source Team Selected Panelists Score Comments
ESPN
7 of 9 panelists pick Browns N/A
Baltimore Sun
Ravens 27, Browns 23 ”Expect a tense battle here, with the Browns trying to show they’re for real and the Ravens fighting for their season. The Ravens’ turnover-hungry pass defense will make the final difference against Mayfield.” — Childs Walker
USA Today
5 of 7 panelists pick Ravens N/A
NFL.com
Ravens 27, Browns 24 “Baltimore needs this game more and has been in this type of game many more times. Experience wins the day.” -- Gregg Rosenthal
NFL Network
3 of 6 panelists pick Ravens N/A
Sporting News
Browns 20, Ravens 17 “The Ravens' run defense hasn't been as good of late and their pass rush has been limited, which will allow Baker Mayfield to stay hot and comfortable enough at home.” -- Vinnie Iyer
CBS Sports
7 of 8 panelists pick Ravens “[I]t's more of a proving game for the Browns. I think the Ravens will come in and play with their season on the line and I think will get a tough hard-nosed victory.” -- Pete Prisco
Pro Football Talk
2 of 2 panelists pick Ravens “It’s a must-win game for the Ravens with the Browns surprisingly ahead of them in the AFC wild card race. I see the Ravens pulling out a close one.” -- Michael David Smith
Sports Illustrated
5 of 6 panelists pick Ravens N/A
Fansided
Ravens 25, Browns 23 “Cleveland is good enough to knock the Ravens off, but is the desperation there? Should be an awesome tilt.” -- Matt Verderame

Ravens Reportedly Working to Extend Derek Wolfe

Derek Wolfe thought he was originally going to be drafted by the Ravens in 2012, and the veteran defensive lineman could find himself in Baltimore for the long term.

KOA News Radio's Benjamin Albright reported that the Ravens have been happy with the performance of Wolfe and are working to extend him.

Baltimore signed Wolfe to a one-year deal this offseason, and he said immediately after that he hoped to turn it into a longer stay. He's been an integral part of the interior defensive line. He's totaled 44 tackles, five tackles for loss, and three quarterback hits in 10 games.

"Wolfe has been a menace in the trenches for Baltimore as of late, which has been much needed as fellow starters Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell have both been injured and also placed on the COVID-19 reserve list over the past few weeks," Baltimore Beatdown's Spencer Schultz wrote. "Wolfe has stepped up big time, particularly over the past three games. Wolfe has recorded at least four tackles in each of the past four contests, finding success against zone blocking schemes. He's been quick off the ball and rarely hasn't won his one-on-one blocks. Wolfe has also shown hustle and determination to end plays."

After the signing of Michael Brockers fell through, Schultz noted that Wolfe's addition, at a cheaper cost, has worked out well for the Ravens. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's defense is allowing just 111.6 rushing yards per game and ranks among the league leaders in takeaways.

Keeping Wolfe past this season would give the Ravens continuity on the defensive front. Williams and Campbell still have one more year left on their current deals, along with the additions of young talent in Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington.

"Wolfe has responded by rising to the occasion," Schultz added. "The Ravens would be wise to keep a savvy veteran with some gas in the tank around."

Have the Ravens Invested Enough at Wide Receiver?

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec and Sheil Kapadia looked at one of the organization's most heavily-debated topics: Has enough been invested into the wide receiver position?

"The Ravens' track record in drafting and developing players is among the best in the league. However, there is an obvious Achilles' heel and it's become an obsession and a source of great frustration with Ravens fans," Zrebiec wrote. "... If you group the offensive and defensive lines together, the only position where the Ravens have not had a homegrown Pro Bowler is wide receiver. Jermaine Lewis, a fifth-round pick in 1996, made the Pro Bowl twice, but it was as a returner."

Zrebiec and Kapadia looked at draft capital and cap spending as the two main criteria. Since Eric DeCosta took over as general manager, the Ravens have made a concerted effort to invest draft picks at the position.

"The Ravens have selected six wide receivers in the last three drafts," Kapadia wrote. "That's tied for most in the NFL over that span with the Broncos and 49ers. And we're not talking about just late-round picks. The Ravens have selected three wide receivers in the first three rounds since 2018. Only the Raiders and 49ers have selected more."

Marquise "Hollywood" Brown was a first-round pick, while Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay were third-round picks.

In terms of cap spending, the Ravens ranked 28th in that category. But Kapadia questioned how high it should be since the Ravens have led the NFL in rushing yards over the last two seasons.

"Does it make sense to invest a lot of dollars at the wide receiver position if they're not going to be used?" Kapadia wrote. "On one hand, 55.7 percent of the Ravens' targets have gone to wide receivers; that ranks 17th, just below league average. On the other hand, their wide receivers have produced 1,368 yards, which ranks 32nd."

That's not to say they haven't tried to add outside talent either. The Ravens reportedly made a run for All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins before he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason.

This season, the Ravens are averaging 169.3 passing yards per game. That's second-worst in the NFL, only ahead of the New York Jets. Yet the Ravens still find themselves in the mix for a playoff spot.

Zrebiec and Kapadia acknowledged that it's not fair to say the Ravens haven't invested enough at wide receiver, but it's fair to question the results.

"The jury is still out on whether he's picked the right guys, but the commitment has been there," Zrebiec wrote.

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