Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Ravens vs. Browns could be the rivalry it was meant to be

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns have never liked each other. The Baltimore Ravens were birthed when the original Browns franchise moved to Baltimore. When Cleveland got a team back, they were put in the same division as Baltimore. This was always supposed to be a rivalry.

The Browns were bad for a long time though, and the Pittsburgh Steelers kind of became the main rival of the AFC North. The Ravens and the Steelers were always fighting for the divisional throne. The Bengals and the Steelers have some serious bad blood. The history of the Browns and the Steelers made Pittsburgh the main rivalry of the Browns, despite the Steelers straight up dominating the battles.

The Ravens have rolled through the Browns over the years:

Baltimore has beaten the Browns 33 times while the Browns have just 11 wins in the series. The Ravens only lost three games to the Browns during the Joe Flacco era. At one point the Ravens had beaten Cleveland 11 times in a row. Again, there was dislike, but a great rivalry hadn’t really formed.

Baltimore’s top rival was originally the Tennessee Titans and has become the Steelers. You could argue that the Titans have become the Ravens’ second biggest rivalry, though that flame could die down as the Ravens don’t play the Titans this season. When Baker Mayfield was taken as the number one pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and Lamar Jackson was taken with the final pick of the first round, things were once again set in motion.

The Ravens swept the Browns in the 2020 season, though the second meeting may have been where the rivalry really got started. 47-42. The best drama that television has had for years. Lamar Jackson went to the locker room. Trace McSorley got hurt. Jackson came into the game and made magic happen. Be honest Ravens fans, how many times have you seen the replay of that game? Three for me.

New Browns, New Rivalry:

Now the Browns look like one of the best teams in football. In fact in the AFC, the four best teams are clearly the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills, the Ravens, and the Browns. This will be the first time in the history of Ravens vs. Browns where both teams will come into the season as Super Bowl contenders.

That 47-42 battle seemed like the first heavyweight fight between the teams. That was the Browns showcase game against the Ravens. The Ravens know that this is going to be the toughest opponent on their schedule for years to come. That’s a game-changer. That’s a rivalry.

Baltimore and Cleveland are perfect rivals too. It’s got many of the same Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh elements. It’s two physical football teams, and it’s starting to feel personal.

The Ravens and Browns have two of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, both have young franchise quarterbacks. John Harbaugh and Kevin Stefanski are both really strong personalities and that makes for a nice coaching rivalry. It just seems so perfect. The Browns and Ravens are getting on each other’s nerves. This is a feeling Ravens fans typically reserve for Pittsburgh alone.

Baker Mayfield is an almost cocky number one pick. In the same draft class where every team passed on Lamar Jackson at least once, Mayfield was chosen first. Mayfield gives the Browns more of a traditional quarterback. Jackson is the quarterback who is making history by being the best dual-threat quarterback. Mayfield and Jackson, both of whom you have to have a lot of respect for as leaders of their team, are the perfect foils for each other.

NEXT POST: 3 Forgotten Baltimore Ravens of the month: vol. 2

Mayfield and Stefanski give the Browns legitimacy, and their stacked roster is finally starting to make some noise. Jackson has given the Ravens new life and Harbaugh is a very trusted head coach. Could this become the Ravens’ main rivalry? Could this rivalry tell a huge part of the story for the next five to ten years? It looks like the answer is starting to shape up as a YES.


Posted in Hot Take of the Week

Ravens are still the class of the AFC North

By Ronald Toothe

There’s a shift currently taking place in the AFC North. It’s a shift that has brought with it an influx of incredible young talent to all four teams over the last few seasons.

In Cleveland, it started with Myles Garrett in 2017 and continued with the addition of franchise cornerstones like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Denzel Ward.

In Cincinnati, second-year QB Joe Burrow will have his chance to wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his old college teammate Ja’Marr Chase for years to come.

Even in Pittsburgh, despite their old guard slowly leaving piece by piece, they’ve managed to stay strong by drafting new stars like TJ Watt, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson.

While the balance of power going forward could be as fragile as it’s ever been, fear not, for the AFC North will still be the Ravens division to win for years to come.

Of all the other three teams’ additions to their rosters since 2017, Eric Decosta and company have been right there with them every step of the way. For as much as the Flock can be frustrated at times when a player like Miles Boykin or Jaylon Ferguson doesn’t provide the immediate boost, we’d like, the hits have far outweighed the misses.

Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Chuck Clark, Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, DeShon Elliott, Bradley Bozeman, Marquise Brown, Patrick Queen, J.K. Dobbins. All of these players have been drafted in the last four seasons. This is crazy to think about given how integral each one has been to the Ravens’ success already.

Ravens fans already know that this team has numerous different standard-bearers in place for the future though. The question is, how do they stack up with the rest of the division going forward?

Cleveland rocks?

Pundits on television and in print media have been quick to say that the Browns will be the kings of the north for years to come following 2020. The only problem with that hot take, is that we’ve heard it for going on four years now.

Cleveland has certainly taken monumental steps forward over these last few years and does deserve much more respect than they’ve garnered in the past, but a playoff win against a broken down Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t make them instant Super Bowl contenders or divisional favorites.

It’s hard to argue the talent the Browns have accrued over the last few seasons. Nick Chubb is in the conversation of the best pure running back in the league, and Myles Garrett has shown that he’s probably the best defender in football not named Aaron Donald.

Baker Mayfield really began to show why the Browns took him first overall in 2018 after last Thanksgiving as well, putting together the best stretch of his pro career thus far. He only threw one interception during that span, indicating that his gunslinger approach may be a much more calculated one going forward.

Paper vs. reality

Even despite all of the “on paper” talent the Browns have though, the current Mayfield-led iteration of the team still holds a 1-4 record vs the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens. Both of their key wins last season (vs Tennessee, vs Pittsburgh in the playoffs) were almost blown after getting out to huge leads early on in the ballgame.

They also stubbed their toe against lesser teams like the Raiders and Jets during what was still a crucial playoff push at the time, games where elite teams get the job done. Going forward the Browns will likely be the biggest thorn in the Ravens side, but anyone who says it’s their division to win is doing so just for the sake of the potential “I told you so”.

From LSU to Cincinnati, the new Tiger Kings?

The Bengals have a whole lot of work still left to do and more additions to make, but make no mistake about it, they’re not as far off as one would initially think. Their 2021 draft was quietly among the best in the league as of now (which is easy to say while players are still in shorts and helmets of course).

The free agent acquisition of Trey Hendrickson to pair alongside Joseph Ossai from Texas could be one of the most overlooked pass rush duos in football, but will certainly help what’s been a rough defensive unit for the Bengals over the last few seasons.

The major key to their success going forward will be keeping QB Joe Burrow upright. They began focusing on this with the drafting of Jackson Carman out of Clemson (along with two others later in the draft: D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill), who will provide some much needed protection for the young signal caller.

Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd could very well be the most well-rounded receiver group in the league down the line with a player like Burrow slinging the rock, they just need the time in the pocket to make it happen.

2021 likely isn’t the year the Bengals will be competing for a playoff position, but if Burrow is able to make it through the season and continue building what was already becoming great chemistry with the young guys around him, they’ll be far from the easy win on the schedule that we’ve come to know going forward.

Closing the Steel curtain on the old guard

Surprisingly enough, the team in the least enviable position in the AFC North going forward is the one that took home the divisional crown in 2020: the Steelers. Each AFC North team has their quarterback of the future, while Pittsburgh willingly signed up for another ride with a 39 year old coming off of total elbow reconstruction.

What was once one of the most feared offensive lines in football has become more and more a shell of itself over the last few seasons, with the biggest shifts coming this off-season. After the retiring of Maurkice Pouncey, and Alejandro Villanueva coming over to anchor the right side of the Ravens line, their current situation up front leaves much to be desired.

In an article for Trib Live, Chris Adamski writes,

“J.C. Hassenauer and B.J. Finney are options at center. Second-year player Kevin Dotson is penciled in as the new starter at left guard, and Zach Banner is expected to serve as the starting right tackle in 2021 despite never having started and finished an NFL game on the offensive line. Also, Chuks Okorafor is slated to take over for longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who signed with the rival Baltimore Ravens. And another rookie, tackle Dan Moore, was added via a fourth-round draft pick.”

Now, it may be unfair to completely write off the linemen they have coming in given that most of them haven’t had the chance to step up. However, given the consistency they’ve had and the chemistry they built in the process over the last decade, it’s hard to be confident that a brand new group like this can keep Ben healthy through an extended season.

Other issues for the Steelers

Not to mention, they spent this year’s first round pick on a heck of a running back from Alabama in Najee Harris, but if the offensive line is causing him to meet defenders at the line of scrimmage on a regular basis it may as well still be James Conner back there.

The defense will still be among the better units in football, but even that side of the ball has seen its fair share of losses. Bud Dupree chose to head for greener pastures in Tennessee, Mike Hilton the same to Cincinnati, and Steven Nelson was deemed a cap casualty and released. They didn’t address those holes until day three of the draft, so it’ll take a mighty effort from Watt, Heyward, and company to replicate their prior success.

Wrap up

Overall the AFC North is improving in a lot of ways, but the Ravens have managed to stay ahead of that curve every step of the way. We’ve got some exciting divisional match-ups to look forward to in the coming years, and probably a lot of Sundays spent on the edge of our seats as a result.

NEXT POST: The Ravens don;t need Julio Jones to make it work

It wasn’t too long ago that people considered the AFC North to be the true class of the NFL, and should the new young crop of talent across the board live up to their full potential, it won’t be long before that again becomes a reality.