By Ed Meyer
This afternoon’s nationally televised Browns game in Baltimore is a win-and-in situation for the favored Ravens.
If they win, they’re in the playoffs as the champs of the hard-fought AFC North with a 10-6 record.
The Browns, however, with a 7-7-1 record and five wins in their last six games under interim coach Gregg Williams, are not backstage understudies by any means.
“We will treat this like it is our playoff game,” Williams said as the Baltimore practice week began. “We will treat it that way because that is how intense the game is going to be, because they are going to be that intense; we are going to be that intense. It will be fun. It will be fun to see.”
The star of CBS-TV sports, play-by-play man Jim Nantz, said in a podcast Friday on thelandondemand.com, that this could be the network’s highest-ranked game of the season, not only because of what is at stake for the Ravens, but also because of what the Browns have achieved under Williams, offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens and the no-doubt-now franchise quarterback, rookie Baker Mayfield.
Even if the Browns lose, they’ve already made the best turnaround in team history with seven more wins this year than they had in the 0-16 debacle last year under Hue Jackson.
That’s why CBS’s top NFL broadcast team, Nantz and analyst Tony Romo, the former Cowboys quarterback, was assigned to the game (4:25 p.m. Eastern Time start).
It is shaping up, Nantz said, as a “coming out party” for the Browns’ re-emergence as a legitimate playoff contender, so much so that he said he expects three prime-time games for the Browns next year, plus a few nationally televised doubleheader games.
Myles Garrett, the usually soft-spoken defensive end, may have put the game in the best perspective. If the Browns win, they will move to 8-7-1 for their first winning season since 2007.
“It’s been a fun ride,” Garrett said before the team left for Baltimore, “and it’s something to build off of. We now have the pieces to control our own destiny.”
The Ravens are solid, 6.5-point favorites, and they have an 8-6-1 mark against the spread.
The Browns also are 8-6-1 against the spread.
Story lines could fill a block of Broadway theater marquees:
- Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, 62, the Hall of Fame tight end of the Browns from the 1980s, has announced his retirement and could be in his final game with the Ravens. If they lose, the only way they could make the playoffs is if the Bengals beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in another 4:25 p.m. start today.
- Mayfield, 23, threw for 284 yards, three TDs and no interceptions with a 121.9 QB rating in last week’s 26-18 win over the Bengals – then capped it off with his love-it-or-hate-it stare down of Jackson.
- Mayfield was the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma, the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Browns, and finished third in the 2016 Heisman voting.
- Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson of Louisville, 21, was the 2016 Heisman winner, was drafted at the bottom of the first round (32ndoverall) this year, and was third behind Mayfield in last year’s Heisman voting.
- Browns rookie tailback Nick Chubb, a rugged 5-foot-11, 227 pounds with breakaway speed, needs 28 yards rushing to reach the 1,000-yard mark – and didn’t get his first start until Week 7.
- Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick of the2017 draft from national champion Alabama, has 12.5 sacks and needs two more today to break the single-season team record held by Reggie Camp, who had 14 in 1984.
- Browns wide receiver Breshad Perriman, a first-round pick of the Ravens in 2015 (26th overall), was cut by Baltimore on Sept. 1. His career now reborn with the Browns, he has had two 66-yard pass receptions, 13 catches for 295 yards overall (22.7 average) and one touchdown.
- With another hot start – Mayfield had 15 consecutive completions at one point against the Bengals – he could break the all-time Browns record for completion percentage in a single season (64.7) by the great Otto Graham in 1953.
- With 24 TD passes for the season, Mayfield needs two to tie the all-time NFL record for rookie quarterbacks, jointly held by Peyton Manning of the Colts (26 in 1998) and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks (26 in 2012).
- And, finally, this sobering reality: The Ravens have the No. 1-ranked defense in the league, with the fewest yards allowed per game (284.1 average), fewest points overall (263, 17.5 average), and fewest points in the fourth quarter (3.2 per game, down to 2.3 in their last three games).
Matchups to watch
Browns SS Jabrill Peppers vs. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson: Joe Flacco, a pocket passer, was the Ravens QB in the first meeting between the division rivals. Jackson is second on the Ravens with 605 rushing yards and has a team-high 127 carries. Using Peppers as a spy might be the best way to keep the Ravens’ elusive rookie in check.
Browns LT Greg Robinson vs. Ravens LB Za’Darius Smith: Smith leads the Ravens with 8.5 sacks. The Browns’ offensive line began showing improvement when Robinson replaced Desmond Harrison as a starter in the 10th game of the season, but Robinson seems to get called for holding at least once a game. The Browns cannot afford to have drives stalled by penalties.
[Go to The Land on Demand, at thelandondemand.com to listen to exclusive podcasts on today's game. Access it under the link, Shows, scroll down to 100 Years Pod and open the links, 12/28/2018 Grossi with Ozzie Newsome; and 12/28/18 Grossi w/Ed Meyer Week 17 Preview for another Doom and Gloom show. Free trials are available.]