Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns: 5 Players to Watch for Baltimore
Despite another road failure against a supposedly inferior team, the Baltimore Ravens remain in the driver's seat for an AFC North title and a first-round bye, thanks to a big assist from the NFL's other Harbaugh and a timely injury to Ben Roethlisberger.
Now, Baltimore needs to take another step with a far more complete effort at home against the lowly Cleveland Browns. For the team to regain the respect it had earned before the choke job at San Diego, these five players will need to step up and help carry the team to victory.
Evans has had a woeful first year in Baltimore: He went down with an injury after just two games, and has made only two catches since returning in Week 11.
But with Anquan Boldin suddenly out until at least the start of the playoffs due to injury—and Torrey Smith suddenly the No. 1 option at wide receiver—Joe Flacco will need a veteran pass catcher to step in and replicate Boldin's textbook route-running and sure hands as closely as possible. The depth chart at receiver is horribly thin after Smith, so Evans is going to get his looks.
If he steps up and returns to form, Joe Flacco's life will be a lot easier.
The former Bengals kicker will fill in for the injured Billy Cundiff for at least one week while he recovers from injury.
A onetime Pro Bowler, Graham's bounced around the league since being let go by the Bengals in 2009. The Ravens have relied on Cundiff's sure leg on many occasions this season and will need a capable, mistake-free performance from Graham in relief. Graham will certainly be motivated to prove that he deserves a full-time job somewhere in the league.
The heart and soul of the defense returned to action with a disappointing performance in San Diego, as Lewis' unit was overrun from the start of the game by the Chargers offense.
Lewis in particular looked hobbled, or at least unready for game action. San Diego running back Mike Tolbert eluded the normally explosive linebacker on more than one play. With a full week of reps under his belt, Ray needs to prove that he's back at full strength with a dominant performance against Cleveland.
The favorite for Defensive Player of the Year was held in check in San Diego, largely because of a heroic blocking effort from Chargers tight end Randy McMichael, who managed to wear Suggs down by at least making contact on every play in the first few series.
Suggs needs to prove that he can overpower opposing blockers, even when offensive coordinators specifically build game plans around neutralizing him as San Diego did. Suggs can no longer surprise the very best offensive tacticians, and will need to adjust his own game plans to continue his historically great production.
The notorious ballhawk has been a virtual no-show throughout the last few weeks of the season, recording just eight tackles since Week 11 and just a single interception since a dominant two-pick day in Week 1.
Whether its injury or just Father Time finally taking his toll, Reed has not been the same player he was during his abbreviated 2010 season, and he will need to find a way to return to form for this defense to reach its full potential, especially with so many young players like Jimmy Smith being forced to log heavy playing time in the secondary.