With quarterback Baker Mayfield entering his second full season, and with the acquisition of an A-list receiver in Odell Beckham for Mayfield to target, the Cleveland Browns headed into the 2019 NFL season with every expectation of breaking the team’s 17-season string without a playoff appearance. But they now stand at 6-8, and to retain even a slim hope of a postseason berth, the Browns must defeat the league’s hottest team. That would be the 12-2 Baltimore Ravens, who head to Cleveland without a loss on their record since Week 4.
Of course, that Week 4 loss came to these same Browns, by a lopsided 40-25 score on the Ravens’ home turf. So Baltimore will have their sights set on redemption for that defeat. But more importantly, a win gives the two-time Super Bowl champions their first AFC top seed since moving from Cleveland in 1996.
The Browns have a chance of making the playoffs that sunk to about 1 percent after last week’s disheartening loss to the Arizona Cardinals, according to CBS Sports. But technically, at least, their hopes are still alive. The various, unlikely scenarios that have them getting into the postseason all depend on a longshot victory over Baltimore on Sunday.
A win over Baltimore is not nearly enough, however. Also on Sunday, the Jets must beat the Steelers, Saints must beat the Titans, and the Colts must defeat the Panthers — just to let Cleveland go into Week 17 with a faint chance of survival.
ESPN previews the Ravens vs. Browns matchup in the video below.
Amazingly, in the first game between the two teams, the Browns were favored by seven points, and covered with plenty of room to spare. But this time around, despite playing at home, Cleveland are 9 1/2 point underdogs to Baltimore, according to odds published by USA Today. The Ravens, however, have beat the spread only once in their last eight games against AFC North rivals — but have gone 7-1 against the spread in their last eight against all competition.
The game also pits two of last year’s first-round draft picks at quarterback against one another. But though they were picked on opposite ends of the first round, Cleveland’s Mayfield — the top overall pick — and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, who was picked 32nd to close out the first round, appear to be headed in opposite directions, like the teams they lead. Jackson tops the NFL in touchdown passes with 33 and has led his team to 10 straight wins, per Pro Football Reference.
But the much more highly heralded Mayfield has tossed only 17 TD passes, in a seven-way tie for 14th in the league, as his team has dropped six of their last 10.
Mayfield has thrown for 3,356 yards, 15th in the league, while Jackson’s 2,889 yards are enough only for 20th. But Jackson makes up for his passing deficiencies with 1,103 yards on the ground, making him easily the NFL’s top rushing quarterback, and eighth in the NFL overall.