Sunday, December 17, 2006

Browns v. Ravens

The Browns travel to Baltimore today to take on the Ravens. Baltimore can clinch a playoff spot (and possibly the AFC North) with the win they're extremely likely to get, while a Cleveland loss will mean that the Browns will have posted a perfect 0-6 record against divisional foes this season.

Is there anything more infuriating to the average Browns fan than the success that the Baltimore Ravens have enjoyed? To me, the sight of Art Modell hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is even more crushing than Edgar Renteria's World Series winning 11th inning single off of Charles Nagy in 1997. After all, Edgar Renteria was just doing his job. Modell was an incompetent ass who was hell bent on passing on his franchise to his pathetic son, David "Honey" Modell. Fortunately, he failed miserably at that, just like he's failing with the efforts at revisionist history intended to get him into the Hall of Fame.

Anyway, that's all in the past, but what isn't in the past is the fact that the Baltimore Ravens continue to absolutely own the Browns. They're 10-5 against Cleveland since the team returned, including last September's heartbreaker at the Stadium. The Ravens have won six of their last seven games, and over that same stretch, Steve McNair has completed over 68% of his passes and thrown for eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. McNair spreads the ball around pretty well, as shown by the fact that Todd Heap has 59 catches, Derrick Mason has 59 catches, and Mark Clayton has 57 catches.

Baltimore's running game is nothing special. Overall, the Ravens rank near the bottom of the AFC in rushing, ahead of only Oakland and guess who? Jamaal Lewis has scored seven TDs and, with 877 yards so far, has a shot at another 1,000 yard season. But Lewis is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry and has rushed for more than 100 yards only once this season.

As always with Baltimore, the story of their success isn't the offense, it's the defense. Once again the Ravens boast the NFL's most stifling defense. In addition to leading the league in total defense, the Ravens have just about lapped the rest of the AFC when it comes to turnovers. They've created a total of 32 turnovers, nine more than the next best team in the conference, and lead the entire NFL in turnover margin with +16. (I'll give you three guesses to figure out who has the worst turnover margin in the league.)

There's nothing like playing a hot team with a great defense on their own field with your second string quarterback after a humiliating loss, is there? You know what, though? These are exactly the kind of games that the Pumpkin Helmets usually show up for. Just when the wheels appear to have come off, they throw together something that looks like a professional performance. With what Baltimore has on the line this week, I can't imagine they'll play as badly as they did the last time these two teams met. I don't think it will be particularly close, but I doubt that the Browns will be as atrocious as they were last week.

I'm going to say Baltimore 27, Cleveland 13.

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