When the National Football League season began in September, the opening week results had many believing it was same-old, same-old.
The team with the best record in football last season, the Baltimore Ravens, opened against the long suffering Cleveland Browns and hammered them into the ground, 38-6. Talk that Baker Mayfield was better at making commercials than playing quarterback circulated around Cleveland like a pesky fly in the kitchen.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to same-old, same old. Everything changed for the defending AFC North Division Champion Ravens, and the team that until the New York Jets took over the role this year was the brunt of football jokes, excelled.
Cleveland won the second week easy, the third week by two touchdowns, and then scored 49 points in Dallas before we knew how bad the Cowboys defense was. After a fourth straight win over the talented Indianapolis Colts, the football world took notice of the Browns and their rookie head coach, Kevin Stefanski.
And, as soon as credit was given the Browns, they returned to their old form. In sixth week action, with a shot at moving into first place in their division, they got slammed in Pittsburgh, 38-7. After a narrow win the following Sunday against the talent challenged Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns lost at home to the Las Vegas Raiders, 16-6. Cleveland entered their bye week not buoyed by early season success, but aware they had a lot to improve if they were going to challenge for their first playoff berth since seemingly Moses came down from the mount with the Ten Commandments.
But, after their bye, the Browns have won three straight games, none more impressive than the victory last week in Tennessee where they scored 38 first half points against a stunned Titans squad.
While Cleveland has improved since losing on opening day to the Ravens, John Harbaugh’s team has had more problems than anyone in the organization had expected. It has been a combination of Covid-19 breakouts and an offense that simply had lost the rhythm that marked their rise in the standings last year.
When their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, was sidelined with the virus, the team was no match for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Three straight losses put the Ravens playoff possibilities on life-support.
Last week, they ended their losing run with a win over the Cowboys, something that isn’t exactly anything to write home about this season. But, after three straight losses, the win while getting their players back from the injured and Covid-19 list was welcomed.
Tonight, they have a chance to move to within one game of the Browns, and own a tiebreaker over Cleveland based on wins in both their regular season meetings.
That’s what the Ravens are looking to accomplish, while a loss all but eliminates the possibility of them earning a playoff spot.
As for the Browns, a win here would pull them to within one game of the AFC North leading Steelers, and they could then perhaps catch Pittsburgh when the two teams close out the regular season in Cleveland on the campaign’s final day.
So, this is what we have here.
The Browns, off a win, want a victory to enhance their playoff position.
The Ravens need a victory for survival.
Need over want every time.
Qoxhi Picks: Baltimore Ravens (-3) over Cleveland Browns