Only One Pundit Picks Browns to Upset Ravens
When the Ravens played at Cleveland in Week 4, a slight majority of the pundits we looked at picked the Browns. Six weeks later, the Ravens are a near unanimous choice to beat the Browns this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
NFL Network's Adam Rank is the lone prognosticator of the 51 sampled to forecast a Browns victory in this AFC North matchup. Rank predicted a 20-17 final score in overtime.
The Ravens (7-2), who are 6.5-pont favorites, have won 13 of their past 15 games against the Browns (5-3) at home.
Both teams were 2-1 when they last met. The Ravens were coming off a frustrating loss to the Indianapolis Colts in overtime, while the Browns entered the game riding a dominant defense that had given up just one touchdown.
It was Baltimore's defense that was dominant that day, however, as the Ravens tormented rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson in his first start enroute to a 28-3 win. This time, Browns starter Deshaun Watson, who has been battling a shoulder injury this season, will be under center.
Watson faces a defense that is No. 1 in scoring and No. 2 in yards, while Lamar Jackson – who accounted for all four of the Ravens' touchdowns (two running, two passing in the Week 4 game) – takes on a defense that is No. 3 in scoring and No. 1 in yards.
Here's what pundits are saying about the game:
The Ravens will prevail in a close one.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "I think you throw out the result of the first game between the two teams because Dorian Thompson-Robinson was nowhere near ready for the day's assignment. However, the Ravens look like the more balanced team in a game between two real defenses. I'll take the Ravens on a late Justin Tucker field goal."
The Ravens will win convincingly over the Browns again.
**USA Today’s Victoria Hernandez:** "The Ravens are red hot right now riding a four-game win streak and outscoring opponents 130-49 in that span. Deshaun Watson looked decent in his return last week, and the fierce Browns defense held the Arizona Cardinals to a shutout. Even though Watson was out in the first matchup this season, Baltimore pretty handily beat Cleveland and they should do so again."
The Athletic's Mark Kaboly: "I am done picking against the Ravens. It has more to do with the Ravens than how the Browns might play in this one. The Ravens find ways to win, and they have owned the Browns, so why would anybody in their right mind pick against them? Baltimore in a rout, 24-0."
The only way the Ravens lose is if they don't protect the ball.
The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer: "The Browns couldn't run on the Ravens in Week 4. They couldn't protect their pocket. They couldn't get the ball to their best receiver. Every first down felt like a minor miracle. Deshaun Watson is capable of leading Cleveland on touchdown drives, but how many are realistic? The Browns won't have their top two offensive tackles — or maybe even their top three — and wide receiver Amari Cooper and tight end David Njoku have been limited in practice. The Ravens' defense is healthier and fiercer up front than it was in early October, too. If Lamar Jackson and this Ravens offense score another four touchdowns against Cleveland's defense, the NFL might as well hand him its Most Valuable Player trophy. Not that the Ravens need a starring performance from their quarterback. As long as they avoid untimely turnovers, they should be in good shape."
The Ravens' running game will be a problem for the Browns defense.
**Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski:** "Taking last week's game out of the equation, because the Arizona Cardinals chose to debut a fifth-round rookie quarterback against Myles Garrett and Co., the previous trend for Cleveland's defense hadn't been positive. The Colts and Seahawks racked up an impressive 282 rushing yards at 4.9 yards per carry against the Browns. If the league's No. 1 overall defense has one specific weakness, it can be overaggressive and tends to overrun plays, thus not always maintaining good run fits. Even taking Arizona's awful effort into account, the Browns' run D falls outside the top five league wide. As usual, the Ravens sit atop the NFL in rushing yardage with their powerful, downhill style and an uber-athletic quarterback. Another explosive element can be now thrown into the mix with the emergence of rookie tailback Keaton Mitchell."
Jackson will out-duel Watson to lead the Ravens to victory.
**CBS Sports’ John Breech:** "This is all going to come down to who plays better between Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson and I'll take Jackson in that debate. The Ravens QB is playing at an MVP level and through nine weeks, he leads the NFL in completion percentage (71.5%) AND QB rushing yards, which is something that has only been accomplished by one other QB in NFL history (Steve Young in 1994). Steve Young won the MVP and the Super Bowl in 1994 and I'm starting to feel like Lamar might do the same."
The pressure is on Watson to win a big game against a division rival.
Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo: "This is why you brought Deshaun Watson in. … This is why you took the PR hit that you took, to suck that up to bring in Deshaun Watson, because this was supposed to get you over the hump as a team. … Massive game for Deshaun Watson. Can he put his best foot forward against the Ravens, who are 7-2 and might be the best all-around team in the AFC right now or in the NFL."
Bold prediction: Despite playing a Ravens defense that ranks No. 1 in efficiency, Watson will play his best game in a Browns uniform, giving Cleveland a chance to pull off the upset.
**ESPN’s Jake Trotter:** "Watson, who returned from a rotator cuff strain a week ago, has not produced a QBR game topping 80.0 in his Browns career. He will achieve that feat Sunday."
|ESPN||9 of 9 panelists pick Ravens|
|Baltimore Sun||Ravens 23, Browns 17||“The Ravens will see a more competitive version of the Browns with Deshaun Watson at quarterback and a defense hungry to prove the 28-3 score of the previous meeting was misleading. But the Ravens are still the more balanced team, able to win in multiple ways on both sides of the ball with a higher offensive upside thanks to Lamar Jackson. The home crowd won’t enjoy another blowout but will help the Ravens through a slugfest.” — Childs Walker|
|USA Today||8 of 8 panelists pick Ravens|
|NFL.com||5 of 5 panelists pick Ravens||“Since these teams met in Week 4, the Browns have proven themselves to be partially elite: The defense is nearly dominant enough to win games on its own, but the offense feels like a replacement-level unit -- at best -- with Deshaun Watson guaranteed only to be better than Dorian Thompson-Robinson was in Round 1 of this matchup. The Ravens, meanwhile, are looking like a complete juggernaut. Sure, Cleveland could connect on enough plays to steal one in Baltimore, but give me the powerhouse defensive team that also has a QB operating at an MVP level.” — Tom Blair|
|NFL Network||9 of 10 panelists pick Ravens|
|Sporting News||Ravens 20, Browns 17||“These two defenses were absolutely destructive and dominant in Week 9 against overmatched NFC West foes. Cleveland is ripping through everyone with Myles Garrett but tends to play much better defense at home. Baltimore has brought it with a nasty pass rush and secondary that few expected even with their past reputation. The Browns can give it up on the ground on the road and the Ravens are rolling with the run. Deshaun Watson still isn't playing well back healthy and he'll make too many mistakes under pressure.” — Vinnie Iyer|
|CBS Sports||8 of 8 panelists pick Ravens||“The Ravens are playing as well as anybody, especially on defense, where they are the No. 1 scoring defense. The Browns are third in scoring, but first in yards on defense. So this should be a game won by the team that gets the best quarterback play. I think that's Lamar Jackson over Deshaun Watson. Ravens take it.” — Pete Prisco|
|Pro Football Talk||2 of 2 panelists pick Ravens||“I love the Cleveland defense; I’m in awe of it. I love the Baltimore Ravens defense even more, let alone the Ravens have the No. 6 offense in football. The Ravens are real. Now, I think the Browns are real too, but I just don't trust the Browns offense yet.” — Chris Simms|
|Sports Illustrated||7 of 7 panelists pick Ravens|
Ravens Getting Lots of Super Bowl Love
NFL.com analysts and The Ringer’s NFL staff have made their midseason Super Bowl predictions. Not surprisingly, the Ravens received their share of votes to either win it all or at least represent the AFC. Here's the breakdown:
Ravens over Eagles
NFL.com's Jeffri Chadiha: "Lamar Jackson gets that much-coveted Super Bowl win with the help of an elite defense that frustrates Jalen Hurts in his second straight bid for a championship."
NFL.com's Marc Ross: "Lamar Jackson has prompted me to flip my preseason pick. He erases all doubts about past postseason failures when he wins the regular-season and Super Bowl MVPs -- a year after Patrick Mahomes accomplished that feat. Beyond Lamar's heroics, the Ravens' defense holds up its end of the bargain by stifling Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown."
The Ringer's Nora Princiotti: "Baltimore's latest pair of 30-plus-point victories against NFC contenders shows how dominant this team can be, and the Ravens look balanced enough to make it all the way — they're currently plus-115 in net points, best in the league by a wide margin. The defense is not just the best in the NFL, but also good enough to be drawing historical comparisons to the 2000 Ravens, an elite unit that played in an era when it was basically legal to give a quarterback a swirlie at midfield. The offense has proved that spreading out and passing the ball more won't diminish the advantages of the run game and Lamar Jackson's mobility. And Jackson leads the league in both completion percentage and rushing yards per game among quarterbacks. It's hard to pick anyone other than Kansas City coming out of the AFC, but the eye test says that the Ravens are a better football team right now."
The Ringer's Ben Solak: "The AFC is going to be an absolute bloodbath this year, and I can't imagine feeling confident in any AFC champion pick at this time. Accordingly, I'll pick the team I've enjoyed rooting for the most: That's the Baltimore Ravens, who have finally built a functional passing game led by Jackson and paired that offense with a versatile, suffocating defense. Nobody has played better ball through nine weeks than the Ravens. Why not them?"
Ravens over Cowboys
NFL.com's Keegan Abdoo: "John Harbaugh takes home his second Lombardi Trophy with the best coordinator duo in the NFL and the league MVP."
Eagles over Ravens
Nick Shook: "Philadelphia returns to football's biggest stage with a team that had to work harder to get there. The seasoning proves well worth it, as the Eagles find a way to shut down Lamar Jackson and Co., bringing home the title that eluded them a season ago."
Brendan Walker: "Jalen Hurts defies all odds and repeats his MVP-caliber Super Bowl performance from a year ago, this time out-dueling Lamar Jackson."
The Ringer's Danny Kelly: "The Eagles are the league's most deep and talented team from top to bottom and just have too many advantages over their opponents, in both personnel and scheme. With a strong offensive line and a uniquely talented quarterback in Jalen Hurts, the tush push essentially changes the math for Philly, giving the team an extra down with which to work—both in short-yardage situations and near the goal line. It also helps to have A.J. Brown as a near-automatic ball winner downfield, and DeVonta Smith is one of the best no. 2 receivers in the league. Plus, they've still got a great rotation of pass rushers that can help them close out games. Put it all together, and this squad is built to win it all."
The Ringer's Danny Heifetz: "Every Eagles series is first-and-9. As long as they keep converting the tush push at roughly the same rate that Steph Curry makes free throws (better than 90 percent), they are the favorite in a weak NFC. It's hard to pick against a team for which fourth-and-1 doesn't feel dramatic."
49ers over Ravens
NFL.com's Brooke Cersosimo: "There's no blackout this time around. With George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey leading Kyle Shanahan's offense, it's neck-and-neck the whole way until the 49ers' defense makes one final stop -- via a shoestring tackle of Lamar Jackson just short of the end zone -- to give San Francisco its sixth Lombardi Trophy."
NFL.com's Eric Edholm: "Losers of three straight games at the moment, the struggling 49ers can be Super Bowl contenders again if Brock Purdy and the defense tighten up. In a crowded AFC field, Lamar Jackson could be the X-factor on that side of the tournament bracket."
Sizing Up the Ravens' Division Rivals
Not only is the AFC North the best division in football though nine weeks, but it could end up being historically good.
Every team in the division is at least two games over .500, which marks the first time that's happened this late in the season since the divisions were realigned in 2002, according to Breech. If the season ended today, all four teams would make the playoffs, which is unprecedented.
The Ravens are in the driver's seat, as they hold a 1.5-game lead over the Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers, who are all 5-3.
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker looked at the prospects for each of the Ravens' division rivals going forward. Here's a synopsis:
"The Browns' upside as a Super Bowl contender took a severe hit when their best offensive player, running back Nick Chubb, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Watson's shoulder pain left them with one of the league's worst offenses, but their defense is such a potent anchor that they're in excellent position, with a 62% chance to make the playoffs, according to both The New York Times' projection system and Aaron Schatz's DVOA featured on FTN Fantasy."
"The Bengals proved last year they could overcome a messy start to make a deep playoff run and appear on track for another in-season recovery. Their defense is nothing special compared with the Browns or the Ravens, but a healthy Joe Burrow is one of the scariest opponents in the league. The New York Times puts their chance to make the playoffs at 69%, while Schatz's DVOA has them at 59.4%."
"The Steelers put themselves in position to chase a playoff berth with close wins over the Ravens and Browns but still have to take their unremarkable offense to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore. Their minus-30 point differential is the worst in the division, and The New York Times puts their chance to make the postseason at 44%, while Schatz's DVOA has them at 54%."