“… But see, yon pirate strangled lies, and crushed with splashing heel,
While o’er him in an Irish hand there sweeps his Syrian steel
Though virtue sink, and courage fail, and misers yield their store,
There’s one hearth well avengéd in the sack of Baltimore! …”
It’s the end of the line for the 2018 Cleveland Browns (7-7-1). One season removed from the worst year in franchise history the team is refreshed, optimistic, and often dangerous. While the playoffs remain out of reach this season there are still stakes to this Sunday’s clash with the Baltimore Ravens (9-6). One last time let’s investigate the matchup.
Baltimore leads the all-time series 29-10. Cleveland won their first matchup this season 12-9 in overtime. Baker Mayfield threw for 342 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. New Browns kicker Greg Joseph booted two field goals including the game-winning 37-yarder in overtime. The victory snapped the Ravens’ five-game win streak.
Poe’s Boys enter as 6.5-point favorites at home in Week 17. The Ravens have a chance to win the division and secure a home playoff game. The Browns can’t match that situation, but few teams are playing better than the Browns right now.
After losing to the Browns in Week 5 the Ravens scuttled to the bye week losing three of their next four contests. Since then, however, the Ravens have been fantastic. They’ve won five of their last six games and are in the AFC North driver’s seat. What distinguishes those six games from the previous nine? Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has changed the trajectory of the season. As a starter he has thrown for 935 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions. In addition, he has rushed for 466 yards and two more scores. Besides Jackson’s prominent debut, the Ravens are again anchored by their defense. Baltimore’s D ranks first in both points allowed (17.5 ppg) and yards allowed (284.1 ypg). The Birds have allowed 22 points in the past two games combined. Za’Darius Smith leads the club with 8.5 sacks.
The stakes are simple for the Ravens: Win and you’re in. With a half-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1) in the AFC North Baltimore can punch their playoff ticket with a victory on Sunday. A loss to the Browns makes things much more difficult. The Ravens would then need the hapless Cincinnati Bengals to somehow defeat the Steelers at home when they have less than nothing to play for. Baltimore has no path the wild card so their only way to the postseason is to take their first division title since 2012.
In the past few years, Cleveland Browns Week 17’s have passed with only a passing notice in Northeast Ohio. Last season’s Week 17 defeat secured a perfectly imperfect season. Two seasons ago Robert Griffin III finished his snakebit season with a loss. In 2015 Austin Davis played quarterback for the Browns. In 2014 it was Connor Shaw. You’d have to go back to 2009 to find a Browns win in Week 17. That’s an eight-game losing streak in the season finale. The 2009 victory concluded a fluky four-game win streak that briefly cooled head coach Eric Mangini’s hot seat. This season the Browns will be playing starters and trying to do more than just finish out the string.
The playoffs went from impossible to long shot to “so close” for the Browns this year. The fact that we could even whisper the p-word shows the amazing turnaround this club has experienced in 2018. Cleveland has won seven (7!) more games this year than last. That’s a franchise record for improvement season over season. There will be plenty of time to talk head coaches, Drafts, and the 2019 schedule but for one more Sunday the city can (hopefully) enjoy a Browns Sunday.