Pundits Near Unanimous in Ravens vs. Browns Picks
The Ravens-Browns game on Sept. 29 was nearly three months ago, but it seems more like three lifetimes since that Week 4 contest, when Cleveland came to M&T Bank Stadium and racked up 530 yards of offense in a 40-25 victory.
It was the Ravens' second loss in a row and allowed the Browns to leapfrog them into first place in the AFC North. Needless to say, the two teams have gone in vastly different directions since.
The Ravens (12-2) have won 10 straight games, clinched their second straight AFC North Division title, and can secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win in Cleveland Sunday.
The Browns (6-8) lost four in a row after defeating the Ravens and have their playoff hopes dangling by a thread.
Given the current state of the two teams, it's not surprising that 56 of the 57 pundits we looked at picked the Ravens, who opened as a double-digit favorite, to win Sunday. ESPN's Seth Wickersham is the lone prognosticator to predict a win for the Browns, who will be trying to sweep the Ravens for the first time since 2007, the year before John Harbaugh arrived as head coach.
Here's a sample of what pundits are forecasting for the game:
The game will bear no resemblance to the teams' first meeting this season.
CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: "It's the biggest aberration of the entire season -- that Browns' victory over the Ravens at Baltimore. … Baltimore blows them out in this game."
The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia: "Yes, I know they beat the Ravens earlier this season, but the wheels have come off in Cleveland after last week's loss to the Cardinals, and the Ravens are a well-oiled machine that can rest its starters in Week 17 with a victory. It's the NFL, so anything can happen, but I'll take the team that routinely scores 40-plus points over the one that has players asking to be traded to the Cardinals."
The Ravens' top-ranked rushing attack will exploit a Browns defense that has been vulnerable against the run.
Sporting News' Tadd Haislop: "There's no reason to believe Cleveland's defense can do enough to slow down Lamar Jackson in the rematch now that Baltimore has found its groove on offense."
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio: "They did it to the Jets on Thursday night. The Jets were giving up 75 rushing yards a game and [the Ravens] did 200-plus. I think they'll get 200."
Keeping Browns running back Nick Chubb, who rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns in Week 4, in check will be a challenge for a Ravens defense that has had some trouble stopping the run.
The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker: "The Ravens have allowed five of their past six opponents to rush for at least 100 yards and allow 4.5 yards per carry, 11th worst in the league. Jets running back Le'Veon Bell, who has struggled most of the season, gained 87 yards on 21 carries against the Ravens in Week 15. Chubb will present a far more dangerous test. The Ravens have been strongest in the middle, where linebacker Josh Bynes and interior linemen Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Chris Wormley have all played well against the run. They've struggled on the edges, where Chubb's speed could hurt them."
The Ravens defense will make it a long day for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher: "No 'Sizzle,' no problem for this Ravens defensive front that's finding its stride at the right time. … The Browns offensive line has some good pieces but hasn't been consistent all year, so I expect exotic blitzes from the Ravens en route to sacking Mayfield six times."
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler: "The Ravens will force Baker Mayfield into three turnovers in this game. This prediction is based on the fact that Mayfield has only had three games this season without throwing a pick. Mayfield has been intercepted multiple times in four different games this season. The Ravens have been creating turnovers well in their 10-game winning streak and the Browns are one of the least protective teams with the football. The Ravens will win the turnover battle, and in doing so they will get a convincing victory."
Both teams will be heavily motivated.
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal: "It's all in front of the Ravens this week: Home-field advantage, revenge for the team's one bad loss and potentially the final chapter of Lamar Jackson's airtight MVP case. … It's just too hard to imagine one of the great regular-season squads ever losing to this Browns team twice."
The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon: "For all the dysfunction, the Browns are still talented, and they'll be fired up to prevent the Ravens from clinching home-field advantage in the playoffs on their home turf. But Lamar Jackson and Co. are on a mission and poised to win their 11th straight."
RG3 Playing Key Role in Ravens' Success
Jackson has taken the league by storm this season, but backup quarterback Robert Griffin III has also played an important role in the Ravens' success. In practices during the week, Griffin is tasked with emulating the starting quarterback of the Ravens' opponent, and he's done it exceedingly well.
"[Griffin] has imitated everyone from the Patriots' Tom Brady to the Browns' Baker Mayfield, this week's project, so well in practice that little surprises the defense on game day," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote.
"And the Ravens have been especially ready for mobile quarterbacks like Griffin, who took the NFL by storm as a dual-threat Washington Redskins rookie in 2012," Shaffer added. "The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson, Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson and Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen all have lost to the Ravens in their 10-game winning streak. All also had either their worst or second-worst game of the season against them, too."
Griffin said it's a challenge to mimic passers with significantly less mobility than him, such as Brady. Per Shaffer, Griffin said he had to "run in slow motion" during practice.
"Whenever he felt pressure and looked to flee the pocket," Shaffer wrote, "his brain had to override his instincts: 'Oh, snap,' he'd remember. 'I'm Tom Brady.'"
Where Jackson and Mayfield Rank in QB Index
Jackson and Mayfield will be linked for the foreseeable future because they were the first (Mayfield) and last (Jackson) picks in the first round of the 2018 draft, and also because they're starting quarterbacks for division rivals.
Since they're facing each other Sunday, let's take a look at where they rank in NFL.com's Week 16 quarterbacks index.
Not surprisingly, Jackson – the MVP front-runner – is No. 1.
"When Jackson last met the Browns, back in Week 4, he threw two picks and took four sacks in a 40-25 loss that could have misled some observers into wondering if Jackson's stellar start to the year had been a fluke," NFL.com's Tom Blair wrote. "Well, uh, yeah – that wasn't the fluke. Jackson's rematch with Cleveland this weekend should go differently."
Mayfield is No. 20 in the rankings of all 32 starting QBs.
"The struggling sophomore signal-caller has the third-most picks in the NFL (17)," NFL.com's Dan Parr wrote. "Perhaps most troubling is the fact that he ranks last in passer rating among QBs that have started every game in 2019 (78.7), per NFL Research."
Mayfield began the season at No. 11 in the weekly rankings, while Jackson was No. 17.
How Al Pacino's Most Famous Movie Quotes Might Apply to Jackson
Count iconic actor Al Pacino among Jackson's legion of fans.
"I watch this guy Lamar Jackson. There are occasionally these players that are inspiring because you can see the game that they play is a game, and you can actually sense the joy they have in what they do," Pacino said. "That's inspiring. Watching Lamar Jackson is an inspiration to actors."
Pacino's admiration for Jackson inspired me to think how some of Pacino's most famous movie quotes might apply to Jackson. Here's what I came up with:
"I know it was you. … You broke my heart. You broke my heart!" ("The Godfather II")
-- Defenders after being juked by Jackson
"You wanna play rough? OK. Say hello to my little friend." ("Scarface")
-- Jackson busting out his spin move on would-be tacklers
"Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in." ("The Godfather III")
-- Jackson on trying to "block out the noise,*"* but the "MVP" chants just won't go away
"Um, I'm dying here." ("Dog Day Afternoon")
-- Defensive coordinators preparing for Jackson
"Hoo-ah!" ("Scent of a Woman")
-- Ravens fans after yet another spectacular play by Jackson