The Baltimore Ravens are in first place in the AFC North. With an 8-4 record they have three more divisional battles. On Sunday they head to Ohio to take on the Cleveland Browns. Here are four predictions and a score for this very important game.
Lamar Jackson is turnover-free but sacks remain a problem:
Lamar Jackson has been a turnover slot machine in the last handful of weeks. He’s getting sacked a good bit as well. The Baltimore Ravens desperately need to get their quarterback back on track.
Pass protection is going to be an issue. Assuming Myles Garrett plays, the offensive line could face a bigger problem than it did last week. Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney take on Alejandro Villanueva and Tyre Phillips. A lot of things could go wrong there.
Jackson will be very cautious with the football. He’ll avoid turnovers. Being a bit gun-shy could worsen the problem with sacks. If Jackson is hesitant to take open shots down the field or to check the ball down, he’s going to get hit, way too much.
Jackson will avoid the boneheaded interceptions. He’ll cling to the ball for dear life. This will be his ultimate focus. Playing nervously at quarterback has negative symptoms though. With the offensive line facing a matchup that (at least on paper) they can’t win in pass protection, Jackson will take at least four sacks.
The defensive front keeps this a battle for the Ravens:
The Cleveland Browns may see Marlon Humphrey being out as their ticket to big plays down the field. While that may be true Kevin Stefanski and company just saw Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt shut down by this Ravens defensive front. The Browns have a highly acclaimed offensive line, though the Ravens won the battle two weeks ago.
Look for another big game from Tyus Bowser, who is crucially important in run defense. Look for Patrick Queen to string another solid performance together. Calais Campbell missed the first Browns game and the defense found a way to dominate the line of scrimmage.
Don Martindale and the Ravens defense are expected to fold without Marlon Humphrey and with a string of secondary injuries. The defensive front had three sacks and held Chubb to 40 yards last time. The Ravens’ defensive backs are a huge question mark. The front seven should have some trust and it will make this interesting.
3. Devin Duvernay makes an impact on special teams:
Devin Duvernay made a big impact against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s quietly having a year as the best return specialist in football. Last week it looked like one might break for a touchdown. He’s due for a kickoff or punt return to get him in the end zone. Look for the Texas Longhorns product to put points on the board via special teams.
Duvernay had a kickoff return for a touchdown last year against the Kansas City Chiefs. He leads the league in punt return yards per attempt. He’s a fast player who keeps coming close to a big play. This is his chance to shine. It’s his chance to make a difference in the game.
4. Rashod Bateman stays frustrated:
Much of the talk from this past week has been about Rashod Bateman’s frustration. The Ravens’ rookie wide receiver may have to stay frustrated one more week.
With Jackson trying to protect the football at any cost, he’s going to lean on his top two targets, Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. It’s a very repetitive cycle. Jackson gets frustrated- Jackson locks on to the two guys he trusts no matter what. Bateman has looked the part and is looking at a matchup that he could win. It should be a big day for him but the side effects of Jackson recovering from his struggles will resort to the ball not being spread around the way it should be.
And now a score: Browns win 24-21
This is a prediction I hope to be wrong about. The Ravens got away with four picks in the last contest with Cleveland; there’s a lot that goes the Ravens way in this matchup. Things are heading in the wrong direction for Baltimore though, and there are a lot of concerns.
Will the Ravens give Cleveland a fight? Absolutely. The calling card of John Harbaugh teams is being competitive, almost no matter what. To win in Cleveland though they have to play better than they have been. Ravens vs. Browns is almost always close now. A few big passing plays in a big spot will give Cleveland the tight victory.