Late for Work 9/11: Pundits Near Unanimous in Ravens vs. Browns Picks 

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Pundits Near Unanimous in Ravens vs. Browns Picks

The last time the Cleveland Browns visited M&T Bank Stadium, they exploded for 530 yards of offense in a 40-25 win over the Ravens.

There was plenty of handwringing from Ravens fans after the team's second straight defeat, but Baltimore would not lose again during the regular season, reeling off 12 straight victories.

The overwhelming majority of pundits are not expecting a repeat of that Week 4 contest when the Ravens host the Browns in the season opener on Sunday. In looking at predictions for the game from 40 pundits, 37 picked the Ravens to win.

Here's a sample of what they're saying about the game:

The Ravens will not be caught 'flat-footed' this time.

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio: "They got caught flat-footed last year Week 4 by the Browns at home. They got caught flat-footed by the Titans in the playoffs. There is no way in hell that the Browns are catching the Ravens flat-footed Week 1 at home. The Ravens in a romp, relatively speaking, 27-17, although I think it's going to be worse than that."

Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer: "The Ravens got stronger offensively around Lamar Jackson with rookie back J.K. Dobbins and younger, speedier wide receivers. They will recover well from the loss of Marshal Yanda to keep putting up prolific run-heavy numbers. … Baltimore is bound to start faster out of the gate while Cleveland works on finding its more grounded footing."

Lamar Jackson will be the difference-maker in the first game of a unique season.

The Baltimore Sun's Daniel Oyefusi: "With no preseason games and a truncated training camp, I wouldn't be surprised to see sloppy play from both teams. An empty M&T Bank Stadium hurts the Ravens, and they might be caught off guard early facing a team with a new head coach. But Lamar Jackson's playmaking will be the difference in Week 1."

The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer: "No one knows what's going to happen in this season, so the best bet is to stick with the sure things. In this case, that's Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' rock-solid secondary. Cleveland has the talent to win in Baltimore, as it did last season, but the Ravens have the advantage of continuity."

Brandon Williams is critical in slowing the Browns' potent rushing attack.

Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz: "As a nose tackle, Williams can play a pivotal role in combating the Browns' rushing attack by occupying blockers to give [middle linebacker Patrick] Queen — and other teammates — more room to chase down ball-carriers. Baltimore last year suffered a 15-point loss to Cleveland in Week 4 when Williams sat out with a knee injury and then rolled to a 16-point victory in a Week 16 rematch when the veteran defender was on the field."

OT Orlando BrownJr.vs. DE Myles Garrett is a key matchup.

Kasinitz: "In Week 4 last year, star defensive end Myles Garrett routinely lined up across from Brown, and statistics suggest the Ravens' right tackle handled the challenge well. Garrett had just one tackle against Baltimore, and that contest was the only one of the Browns' first seven games in which the former top pick did not record a sack. Baltimore needs Brown to be back in top form Sunday, because Garrett carries the ability to disrupt the run game and burst into the backfield to bother Jackson."

Calais Campbell's first game as a Raven will be a memorable one.

Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens: "Cleveland's offensive line was a problem last year and while they did quite a bit to bolster it this offseason, they enter Week 1 with some injuries and a tough task. On the other side of the ball, newly acquired Baltimore defensive end Calais Campbell is looking to prove the doubters wrong. … Campbell dominates all game long, getting moved all over the place to create mismatches en route to taking down Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield four times in this game."

J.K. Dobbins will make an immediate impact.

ESPN's Jake Trotter: "Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins scores two touchdowns in his Ravens debut against a shorthanded Browns defense down multiple starters due to training camp injuries."

The Browns defense will slow the Ravens offense enough to keep it close.

Pro Football Talk's Chris Simms: "Joe Woods coming from the 49ers, the new [defensive] coordinator with the Cleveland Browns, he got to see this Baltimore offense a little last year … so at least he knows what to expect, and of course they have talent, too. So I'm taking the Ravens, but I'm going in a close one. I'm going to go 24-21 Baltimore."

The Browns are primed to pull an upset.

Sporting News' Tadd Haislop: "Weird, inexplicable upsets in Week 1 are relatively common, especially when division opponents collide to begin a season. Which makes this a dangerous game for the Ravens, who speaking of inexplicable upsets got blown out by the Browns as one of their two regular-season losses last year. Cleveland has new, offensive-minded coach Kevin Stefanski and hopes of contending in the AFC North (for real this time). This game is the perfect opportunity for the Browns to prove themselves worthy of the optimism."

Table inside Article
Source Team Selected Panelists Score Comments
Baltimore Sun
4 of 4 panelists pick Ravens “Cleveland has the talent to win in Baltimore, as it did last season, but the Ravens have the advantage of continuity.”— Childs Walker
USA Today
7 of 7 panelists pick Ravens
NFL.com
Ravens 33, Browns 30 “A tight loss for Cleveland would be a moral victory, if such a thing is possible in the stadium that Art Modell built.”— Gregg Rosenthal
Sporting News
Browns 33, Ravens 28 “This game is the perfect opportunity for the Browns to prove themselves worthy of the optimism.”— Tadd Haislop
CBS Sports
7 of 8 panelists pick Ravens “The Ravens will again be explosive on offense, but the Browns should be good on that side as well. So which defense plays better? I will go with the Ravens, but the Browns blew them out in Baltimore last year. So be careful.”— Pete Prisco
Pro Football Talk
2 of 2 panelists pick Ravens “The Browns should be better this year, but the Ravens’ offense will prove too much for Cleveland’s defense.”— Michael David Smith
Sports Illustrated
5 of 6 panelists pick Ravens
Fansided
Ravens 26, Browns 20 “Cleveland ... has to stop Lamar Jackson from running all over, something nobody did last year.”— Matt Verderame

Browns DT Sheldon Richardson on Jackson: 'I Don't Think He Turned Into Aaron Rodgers'

It's not like the Ravens need bulletin board material to fire them up for Sunday's game, but Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson may have inadvertently provided them with some just in case.

When asked by a reporter what he expects from the Ravens offense on Sunday, Richardson said: "They're going to stick to who they are. I don't think [Jackson] turned into Aaron Rodgers no time soon. Honestly, they're going to stick to what they do best, and that's running the football."

While the Green Bay Packers All-Pro quarterback is more of a pocket passer than Jackson, it's not as if the reigning NFL MVP hasn't performed well in the pocket. Last season, Jackson was No. 1 in the league in EPA (expected points added) operating from the pocket, and No. 5 from outside the pocket, according to Next Gen Stats.

As far as passing statistics last year, Jackson had the edge over Rodgers in touchdowns (36 to 26), completion percentage (66.1 percent to 62 percent), touchdown percentage (9.0 to 4.6) and passer rating (111.3 to 95.4).

In two games against the Browns in 2019, Jackson threw for six touchdowns and competed 67.7 percent of his passes.

On a side note, Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer asked 53 head coaches, general managers, scouting VPs and directors, offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches who they believe will be the top five quarterbacks in the league at the conclusion of the season. Jackson finished third, behind the Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson.

Mahomes got 49 first-place votes. Jackson (two votes) was the only other player to receive multiple first-place votes.

Ray Lewis on Patrick Queen: 'He Freaking Gets It'

To say the bar is set high for middle linebackers drafted in the first round by the Ravens would be an understatement. One, Ray Lewis, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the other, C.J. Mosley, is a four-time Pro Bowler.

Rookie first-round pick Patrick Queen, who was referred to as Ray Lewis Jr. by Jackson when the Ravens drafted him, has the talent to uphold the Ravens' legacy at the position, Lewis said.

"He has a knack for the football," Lewis told The Baltimore Sun. "And that's what the game is transitioning to. A lot of linebackers are not even on the field on third down. With his body style, he can be a [three-down] 'backer."

Lewis compared Queen's situation to a quarterback having to succeed Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but he said the former LSU star "freaking gets it."

"That spot is the general," Lewis said. "It's the general of the defense. You've got to know everything."

Cyrus Jones Says Getting Cut By Ravens Might Have Saved His Life

Former Ravens cornerback/return specialist Cyrus Jones said getting cut by the team last November turned out to be a blessing.

After being released, the Baltimore native and former Gilman star signed with the Denver Broncos. A minor stomach ailment thought to be a normal reaction to a change in altitude sent him to the team doctor, who discovered Jones had a congenital coronary defect from birth that required surgery.

"If I would have not got cut by Baltimore, I would have never found out what was really going on with me," Jones told The Baltimore Sun. "The congenital thing I was born with, that was overlooked my whole life — luckily, the unfortunate didn't happen. They say the majority of the time, you never know until the worst thing happens — you drop dead — and, after the fact, they figure it out. So somebody has been watching over me this whole time, for 26 years."

Jones, a second-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2016, said he expects to be cleared soon and hopes to get another shot in the NFL.

"When you go through something like that, it forces you to dig deep and kind of figure out who you truly are, what you've really got in you and how much you're willing to sacrifice to get back out there and chase your dream again," Jones said. "I found out that I'm even more unbreakable than I thought I was. I've been through a lot in my career and having all that thrown on top of it definitely could have been a catastrophic thing. I could have just kind of given up, but that's never been me."

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