Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
Sunday December 26, 2010 1:00 PM EST
Line: Baltimore -4
The 10-4 Baltimore Ravens put together a victory last week against the New Orleans Saints in yet another close victory. They are currently tied for first place in the AFC North, but do not hold the tiebreaker over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
By going undefeated in their final two games, the Ravens could gain a leg up on the Steelers, forcing Pittsburgh to play on the road in the first round of the playoffs. That journey all begins with Cleveland on Sunday.
The Cleveland Browns are one of the great enigmas of professional football. With double digit victories over the Saints and Patriots, competitive games against the Jaguars and Jets, and losses against the Bengals and Bills, it is unclear who the Browns are as a team. They can compete or lay down against any opponent in the NFL.
The Browns are playing for pride at this point, but a win over the Ravens would give them another quality win over a team that could make a run in the playoffs.
Keys to the Game
Ray Rice is playing his best football right now, which is ideal for Baltimore. After a number of relatively quiet weeks, Rice exploded for 153 rushing yards, 80 receiving yards, and two touchdowns last week.
This week, he is going up against a Cleveland defense that is vulnerable to Rice’s production both on the ground and in the pass game. Rice is once again the focal point of the offense, which in turn opens up the passing game. Expect Rice to have another big day, even though odds are he will not see 30 touches again until the postseason.
The Browns need to hit the Ravens where they are most vulnerable, in their secondary. This isn’t to say that Colt McCoy needs to throw at future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, but cornerback is far and away the weakest point of the Baltimore defense.
McCoy shredded the Cincinnati defense and threw his first multiple touchdown game of his career. He might not be the strength of the Browns offense, but he showed that he can take advantage of what is being presented to him. It will be interesting to see how he progresses in his second year, where he will likely be the starter from Day 1.
The Browns O-line vs. the Ravens Front Seven:
Joe Thomas is the leader of the Browns offensive line. He will probably not be the most important lineman for Cleveland this week though. While Thomas will have a tall task trying to keep Terrell Suggs in check, the biggest burden lies on the shoulders of center Alex Mack.
Mack will be squaring off with All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. While Ngata requires the attention of more than one offensive player, Mack will almost always make contact with him on every snap.
Ngata dominates the line of scrimmage and allows Ray Lewis room to roam. If the Browns can hold their ground against the Ravens, they may be involved in another close game. The most important thing for the Browns to do is establish a running game and allow Colt McCoy to feel comfortable for at least a brief moment in the pocket. That success or failure will lie within the offensive line.
I like the Ravens in this one. The Browns have been involved in close games and pulled off massive upsets this season, but they have strung together two clunkers and are meeting a Ravens team who is playing their best football. The Browns shouldn’t score more than 14, and I can’t see the Ravens being held to under 21.
Free NFL Pick: Baltimore -4