I want to preface my blog by saying that this game absolutely terrifies me, not only because the Browns are on fire but because, my oh my, does the city of Cleveland want this game. The Browns are looking for their first winning season since 2007, and even though they are eliminated from playoff contention, the game in which they can ruin the New Year celebrations of the Ravens – the team that ditched their city the way the Colts did to us. They have a face to rally around in Cleveland’s new superstar Baker Mayfield, a solid defense, a real running back and a young, exciting team with an incredibly bright future. For a season that brought a tremendous amount of hope to the Dawg Pound, there’d be no better ending than an upset of the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17.
Now, moving on to the game itself, the Ravens should get this W. They’re a strong team all around that is playing a way that nobody knows how to prepare for and is incredibly confident after a statement, uber-impressive win over the Chargers. At this point, how could the drop one against the Browns at home? Well, as we all have known for years now, our Ravens can drop just about any game. I just hope that history won’t repeat itself this year.
Ideally, the Ravens will get ahead early and stay ahead, squashing the momentum that the Browns have built and getting them to look ahead to the offseason by the time they hit the locker room for halftime. To do that, it’s all about the pass rush and the secondary, Baltimore’s strong suits. Baker Mayfield is not afraid to throw up 50/50 balls, so I’m looking for a surprise hero – Eric Weddle – to bait him into a toss up out of an oncoming blitz, setting up blocks and returning the INT for 6. If the Ravens can have something like this happen early in the game, say the first or second drive, look out. That would allow Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards, and Kenny Dixon to take over the run game, slow things down and take valuable time off the clock. Because of that, I see the Ravens heading into the half up 13-0, ready to receive the second-half kickoff.
After receiving the ball, the Ravens will deliver the knockout punch, as Lamar Jackson makes two splash plays: one 40-yard scamper from a broken play and one 20-yard toss to Hayden Hurst – yes, Hayden Hurst – for a touchdown. I view Hurst as a potential breakout player in the last regular season game of his rookie campaign, as I think the bomb to Andrews will leave Cleveland devoting a ton of attention to him and offering little to our ginger Thor. As a result, Hayden Hurst will catch 4 passes for somewhere around 60 yards and get himself going as we – spoilers – head into the postseason.
Of course, up 20-0, some will be wondering if a shutout is coming and if we will absolutely run the Browns out of the building. The Ravens simply don’t have many of those games, and this won’t be one. Cleveland will answer late in the 3rd quarter to make it 20-7 and Baltimore will work much more on exhausting the clock than putting up points. They’ll muster one more touchdown, a Kenneth Dixon rush from 5 yards out, but it will be in garbage time. In a game that is much more of a blowout than it appears, even in a double-digit win, the Ravens will beat the Browns and rejoice, for a home playoff game awaits.
Final Score: Ravens, 27 – Browns, 14
This Ravens game will end the doubt that they are the same team we’ve seen for the past few seasons, and what I really want to stress with this blog is that they are a contender for the whole thing. I said that this game terrified me, but that’s really just because of the way they’ve broken my heart in the past few seasons. This year, Baltimore has built a team that can counter anything that its opponent has by limiting possessions and bruising them to the point where our run game has its way with the defense. I can’t say with a ton of confidence that I see them going to the Super Bowl, but I certainly can’t say that they definitely won’t. The AFC is wide open, and the Ravens have just as good a shot as anyone. Let’s enjoy this ride!