Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Free Majority Pick: Ravens -5 Opening Line
Best Line Offered: BetOnline
Ramifications: Ravens win AFC North with victory OR Steelers home loss to Bengals. Baltimore misses playoffs with loss and Pittsburgh win.
Browns fans might be a bit conflicted here. They’d obviously like to see their team continue its late-season surge and finish with a winning record since 2007, but a victory also probably gets the hated Steelers the AFC North title. If the Browns do win this game, how does Coach Gregg Williams NOT get the full-time job. The team is 6-1 under him, and Baker Mayfield looks like a new quarterback. He has completed at least 73 percent of his passes in three of the past five games.
Baltimore, though, has one of the NFL’s best defenses and quarterbacks have a rating of just 80.7 against the Ravens. Mayfield did throw for 342 yards with a TD and pick in Cleveland’s Week 5 12-9 overtime upset of Baltimore. That game was weird as both teams had more than 400 yards of offense yet combined for only 21 points. Joe Flacco was the Ravens’ QB back then, and they are a completely different offense under Lamar Jackson. Baltimore also didn’t use Gus Edwards once that day. Now, he’s a monster. Cleveland has a below-average rush defense and that will be the difference.
The Browns have undergone a renaissance of sorts this season with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Baker Mayfield, pulling the trigger. Mayfield did it again with three TD passes and 284 passing yards with no picks in Cleveland’s 26-18 victory over the Bengals last week and will break their ignominious string of seven straight seasons ending in the basement of the AFC North. Lamar Jackson looks mighty comfortable since taking over for Joe Flacco and the Ravens have been the beneficiary, having won five of six with their first-round draft pick at the helm. Jackson notched his first 200-yard passing game of his young career and a 24-10 win over the Chargers as 4½-point road pups last week. The Ravens are now in control of their own destiny. They are in first-place in the AFC North and own a suffocating defense that limited the high-flying Chargers to 198 total net yards. Philip Rivers was held without a touchdown for the first time this season and was sacked four times and picked off twice. It was another impressive performance for the league’s top-ranked defensive unit.
The Browns are finally fun to watch and this long-suffering franchise now has plenty to look forward to with Mayfield looking every bit the part of a first-overall pick in the draft. But Jackson will ensure that the Baltimore drives are long and grinding while his defense will give this young, burgeoning Cleveland offense fits. Baltimore’s defense has gotten even tighter since these teams last met in Week 5 when Cleveland claimed a 12-9 overtime win and now has Jackson invigorating the Ravens’ offense where it was lethargic and plodding with Flacco under center, as he was in their previous meeting with the Browns. Let’s also not forget that the Ravens have had and extra day to get healthy and prepared. Back the Ravens here as the only thing the Browns want out of this game is to keep Mayfield upright and healthy for Week 1 of the 2019 season.
The Cleveland and Baltimore game is more interesting than most realize. Yes, the Ravens just need a victory to win the AFC North and they are on a real roll at 5-1 SU and are at home. But just the opening spread of the Browns at +5 at Baltimore tells us Cleveland is here to play. Though most Cleveland players and current ownership probably do not care that the franchise was high-jacked by Baltimore, any self-respecting Browns fan does. And given Baker Mayfield has shown a propensity to look for motivation anywhere and his team has a chance to finish over .500 for the first time since 2007, Cleveland will show up.
The outcome of this matchup will really come down to the Cleveland defense and winning on third down. If they can force Lamar Jackson into third and longs more than half the time, they will have a chance. Unfortunately, Baltimore believes in themselves and are confident, especially on defense. They will cause Mayfield in a couple bad decisions and take care of the rest. The Ravens by 7.
The Browns have had a nice season, but Cleveland (1-5 ATS L6 vs BALT) seems to be in the wrong place (M&T Bank Stadium) at the wrong time (Week 17) here, facing a hungry host needing the Win with the #1 Defense (17.5 ppg) who just traveled 6,000 miles to put themselves in this position where a victory means an improbable AFC North title. Perhaps God likes Blackbirds?
Feeding off the way the D played in LA, Baltimore will put heat on Baker Mayfield, who’ll be looking to spoil The Tackling Edgar Allen Poe’s party and already beat them in Browntown, 12-9 in one of the lowest-scoring games this season where a 19-yard TD pass to Rashard Higgins with 40 seconds in the 1st Half was the only TD in the game. Expect Baltimore to get 3 TDs, the Brownies one with Mayfield’s back and forearm bruises going Over the posted black-and-blue Total. It may be the holidays and Cleveland is good, but the Ravens have business to take care of the crowd will be raucous with so much at stake and Revenge on their minds. Baltimore has allowed just one TD in each of its L2 games.
Baker Mayfield enjoys a positive public perception, but it’s unmerited because his success has come against the weaker pass defenses. The Browns faced two teams that rank in the top 10 in pass defense, the Chargers and the Broncos. Baker threw for 188 yards and an 83.1 rating against a Denver secondary that was injury-ridden and his passer rating was 52.6 against the Chargers. Baltimore’s defense ranks second and is healthy. Cleveland’s offense tends to live and die with Baker. In games when his passer rating was less than 90, the Browns lost to Oakland, scored only 12 points (including overtime) against Baltimore, and no more than 18 against Pittsburgh, Denver, Houston and the Chargers. Against Baltimore’s deep and talented secondary, I expect around 14 points from Cleveland, meaning we only need Baltimore to reach 20 points.
The Ravens’ rushing numbers look deflated because they struggled to run when Alex Collins ran the show. But Gus Edwards has been a revelation. He’s a bruiser who averages 5.1 YPC. Kenneth Dixon adds 4.5. Plus there’s Lamar Jackson. They average 4.8 YPC in their past three games. The Browns rank in the bottom half against the run.