Battling Big Bad Baltimore Birds: Browns – Ravens Preview

For the thirteenth straight season, the Cleveland Browns enter Week 2 with the same record: 0-1. This season’s 0-1 somehow feels different than previous seasons. The Steelers were heavily favored last week, but did not cakewalk to a victory as predicted. The Browns proved resilient if inefficient. The club’s tour of the AFC North continues on Sunday when the Browns hit the road for a date with the Baltimore Ravens.

Are the Browns Favored?

Nah. The Browns enter the game as eight-point underdogs. The line feels about right considering the Ravens’ strong start and home field advantage. It’s difficult to plot how betting lines change week-over-week, but the spread is slightly more favorable than last week’s 9.5 so maybe that’s progress?

Rookie Spotlight

DeShone Kizer didn’t exactly shine in his rookie debut, but he passed The Weeden Test which is a critical first step. The former Golden Domer threw 20-for-30 passing for a touchdown and a pick. He also ran for seventeen yards and a score. He looked poised in the fourth quarter converting a pair of fourth downs on Cleveland’s final drive. His decision-making needs work as Kizer suffered seven sacks. It will be worth monitoring how he progresses through his reads this week and throughout the season.

Rookie tight end David Njoku pulled down a pair of receptions for twenty yards. Safety/kick returner Jabrill Peppers looked decent on special teams and recorded four tackles in the secondary. Cleveland continues to gaze longingly at Myles Garrett’s Texas A&M highlights and whisper quiet prayers of healing for the top overall pick.

Scouting the Ravens

The Ravens opened their season with a 20-0 whitewashing of the Cincinnati Bengals in southwest Ohio. Joe Flacco threw sparingly, completing 9-of-17 passes for 121 yards, a pick, and a score. Terrance West (yes former Cleveland Brown Terrance West) ran for 80 yards and a touchdown. The Raven defense, however, stole the show. The Baltimore D forced five turnovers (four interceptions and an Andy Dalton fumble) while holding the Bengals to only 221 yards. Cincinnati entered the red zone three times but thrice came away empty. With questions lingering about Flacco’s balky back it seems likely that the Ravens will continue to lean on their defense to keep them in games.

There is something about Maryland that gives the Browns trouble. Since returning from the void in 1999, the Browns have played the Ravens on the road eighteen times and have won only three times – 2001, 2007, and 2015. For whatever reason, the confines of M&T Bank Stadium pose an unsolvable riddle for the pride of Northeast Ohio. Perhaps a rookie’s touch will turn the tide.

The Browns did not shock the world last week; it was widely assumed they would lose. They did however show a spirit and competitiveness that was mostly absent in 2016. Visiting Baltimore poses a more difficult challenge, but the game will provide a valuable data point as we attempt to answer the eternal question: Are the Browns (maybe possibly) getting better? Wait, is that Josh Gordon’s music??