BALTIMORE- The AFC leader, the Baltimore Ravens, take on division rival Cleveland Browns Sunday night in what could play an important role in shaping the final AFC North standings. Once dubbed the AFC favorite, Cleveland is trying to get back in the playoff hunt. The injury list looks daunting but the team is closer to full strength with the much-needed returns of right tackle Jack Conklin and running back Kareem Hunt. Baltimore gets starting Quarterback Lamar Jackson back so that’s very important for the Ravens that he starts this game.
In what is sure to be a playoff atmosphere, the main chess match of this game will be the Browns defense vs. Jackson. The Browns, at times, show an ability to contain and even box in Jackson forcing him to defeat the defense with his arm. At other times, Jackson showed his merciless speed whenever the Browns failed to contain him. The difference is, Jackson faces a much-improved defense and not just names on a roster. The numbers so far proved that the Browns defense showed a night and day difference.
The Ravens offensive line must not allow JaDaveon Clowney and Myles Garrett to pressure Jackson. This is one of the most highly anticipated matchups of this season. Can this improved Cleveland defense pressure Jackson throughout the game? Will defensive coordinator Joe Woods call more blitz plays? What kind of defense will we see? Will Woods call conservative plays or pressure Jackson right away. The way to challenge the Ravens is not to allow Jackson to make big plays with his feet.
On the other side, if the Ravens defense faces Baker Mayfield, the key is to rattle his cage early. He’s dealing with injuries. This is something to take advantage of.
The return of Conklin and Hunt will allow the Browns to run the ball and force the Ravens defense to commit to the run right away. This could throw the Ravens defense off balance.
On the flip side, the Browns defense faces the challenge of Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, and Mark Andrews.
This will be a test of two types of offenses. The Ravens usually excel at running the ball but they can be one of the most dynamic passing units when Jackson is on target.
Baltimore 28 Cleveland 21. These two teams will split the season series but Baltimore will win this one. The home crowd will be a factor early.