Last Sunday the Cleveland Browns (0-13) came one “Jackpot!” interception away from their first win of the year. With only three games to go, Cleveland is running out of chances to avoid infamy. Their next test will be a stern one with the playoff-hunting Baltimore Ravens (7-6) coming to town.
Are the Browns Favored?
C’mon, guys. Baltimore rolls in as seven-point favorites. The Ravens have dreams of an AFC wild card spot and will be playing with intention against their division foes.
The Ravens lead the all-time series 28-9. The Birds have rattled off four straight wins against the Browns including Week 2’s 24-10 triumph. The Browns have not won in this series since an overtime win in 2015. Cleveland has not beaten their former selves at home since November 2013 Jason Campbell was at quarterback and Rob Chudzinski wearing the headset.
The first part of Baltimore’s season was more bad than good. Only 4-5 at the break, the Ravens secured three straight wins against Green Bay, Houston, and Detroit before losing a tough 39-38 decision at Pittsburgh last week. Baltimore’s closing slate bodes well for the postseason hopes. After visiting Northeast Ohio they return home to play the hapless Colts and rudderless Bengals.
If the playoffs started today it would be weird because the NFL doesn’t play on Fridays. Still, right this moment, Baltimore would be on the outside looking in. The Steelers sewed up the AFC North last week so Baltimore’s best bet is to grab a wild card bid. Right now, Tennessee (8-5) holds the top spot and Buffalo (7-6) has the tiebreaker over the Ravens (7-6) and Chargers (7-6). A handful of teams sit outside the final spot so the Ravens will most likely need to win out and hope the Bills stumble to make their way to January. Spoiler alert: the Browns have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Joe “Is he elite?” Flacco still leads the Poe Boys’ offense. The ten-year veteran has tossed 272-of-422 passing for 2,413 yards, 13 touchdowns, and twelve interceptions. Former Arkansas tailback Alex Collins works as the top ball carrier. The young man has 825 yards on 162 attempts and five touchdowns. Flacco doesn’t play favorites and spreads the ball evenly among Mike Wallace (559 yards, 3 TD), Jeremy Maclin (418 yards, 3 TD), Benjamin Watson (347 yards, 3 TD), and Javorius Allen (236 yards, 2 TD). Oh, and expect to hear linebacker Terrell Suggs’ name at least once this weekend. He has 41 tackles and 11 sacks this year and will never retire.
Among all the Browns’ storylines of sadness this year, there may yet be one of hope in the unlikeliest of places – the ground game. Fourth-year running back Isaiah Crowell turned in his best stat line of the season against the Packers, racking up 121 yards on 19 attempts (6.37 y/a) plus ten yards receiving. Despite the losses, Crowell has somehow amassed 716 yards on 174 attempts. We will ignore the fact that he somehow has only two touchdowns and no lost fumbles despite being a starting running back. Regardless, he is only 284 yards away from a 1,000 yard season. He would need on average 94.7 yards per game to cross that threshold. Baltimore ranks thirteenth in rush defense (108.5 ypg), Chicago ranks fourteenth (108.9 ypg), and Pittsburgh ranks ninth (102.9 ypg). Crowell would need to make every carry count and the deck is certainly stacked against him, but the quest for 1,000 yards could be a fun subplot in the season’s final three games. For the trivia minded, Peyton Hillis was the last Browns running back to hit the mark when he amassed 1,177 yards in 2010.
The smart folks at Five Thirty Eight give the Browns an anemic 17% chance to win on Sunday. Their odds don’t look much better against Chicago (18%) or Pittsburgh (5%). So if Cleveland has a win in them, and they may have exactly one win in them, this Sunday would be a magnificent time to produce it. No NFL team has gone winless since the 2008 Detroit Lions. Considering Cleveland’s eternal rivalry with Detroit in all things sport, let’s see if Cleveland can retain bragging rights in this very specific category.