In this game-day staple, blogger Matt Vensel makes four sometimes-courageous predictions for the game. All he asks is that you don't hold it against him whenever those predictions end up being embarrassingly wrong.
Coming off an emotional victory over the New England Patriots, the Ravens host the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night for their third primetime game in four weeks. The players answered a lot of questions this week about the potential for a letdown on a short week, but the Browns are dealing with a short week, too, and they are the inferior football team. The Ravens have won their past eight meetings against the Browns.
During this winning streak -- in which the average margin of victory is 14 points -- the Ravens have padded their stats. Running back Ray Rice has more rushing yards against the Browns than any other team, and quarterback Joe Flacco has fared well against them, too. Free safety Ed Reed has 10 career interceptions against Cleveland and linebacker Ray Lewis has more sacks against this AFC North rival than any other team.
Given the individual success of many players, I could probably take some freebies like Ray Rice rushing for more than 100 yards or Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden chucking up three picks. But after connecting on two of my four predictions in Week 3, I'm feeling emboldened for Thursday night -- or maybe it's just all that coffee running through my veins. Either way, you can count on these four predictions possibly happening Thursday night.
1. CARY WILLIAMS WILL RECORD HIS FIRST INTERCEPTION
As I alluded to in the introduction, I can see Weeden, a 28-year-old rookie, throwing a few interceptions. He gave away four of them in the season opener and has thrown six of them in three games. Ravens defenders played nice when asked about Weeden, but they have to be licking their chops after watching him struggle to read coverages. He can be effective when he knows what he is looking at, so the Ravens will try to confuse him. I think they will be successful in that endeavor. And what the heck, Williams, who is clinging to his starting spot after a rough start to 2012, will benefit and get one of those picks for the first interception of his career.
2. BERNARD PIERCE WILL GET HIS FIRST TOUCHDOWN
Rice, who is again among the league leaders in yards from scrimmage, could easily rumble for 100 yards and total more than 150 yards of offense. After all, he rushed for 291 yards in two encounters with the Browns last season. But I see the Ravens getting Bernard Pierce more involved in the act, especially after he couldn't move the chains on 4th and 1 on Sunday. Sorry if you own Rice in fantasy football, but Pierce will vulture a touchdown.
3. THE REAL OFFICIALS WILL GET A ROUSING STANDING OVATION -- THEN THEY WILL GET BOOED BEFORE NIGHT'S END
The labor dispute between the NFL and the real zebras was resolved late Wednesday night and the league is rushing veteran referee Gene Steratore and his seven-man crew to M&T Bank Stadium for the first league game of Week 4. For maybe the first time ever, look for the guys in stripes to be greeted before the game with a standing ovation and loud cheers from Ravens fans. Enjoy it while it lasts, though, fellas, because as soon as left tackle Michael Oher is slapped with a holding penalty or one of the defensive backs gets flagged for pass interference, the boo birds will be back and everything will be right again in this crazy football world.
4. THERE WILL BE A RARE TYROD TAYLOR SIGHTING
I say this with the expectation that the Ravens will blow out the Browns, not that Joe Flacco will blow out his knee or something like that. (I'll pause so you can knock on the nearest slab of wood.) The Ravens have won four of their past eight games against the Browns by at least two touchdowns, and I see it happening again Thursday. With Flacco standing out of harm's way on the sidelines, Taylor will get a chance to scramble around in the fourth quarter.