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.
The Ravens have spent the past two weeks looking at what went wrong in their 30-point loss to the Houston Texans in Week 7, though to be fair, many of the issues weren’t exactly new. Still, the Ravens are 5-2 after their bye week and they have to be pleased with the opponent the schedule makers gave them this Sunday.
The Ravens have won nine straight games against the Cleveland Browns under head coach John Harbaugh and with Joe Flacco under center. And with running back Ray Rice leading the way, they have averaged 193 rushing yards per game in their last four trips to Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Ravens talked all week about how the Browns always put up a good fight, but six of those victories were decided by 10 or more points.
So do I think this game will be a cakewalk? Not this time. The Ravens have struggled to find an identity on the road, and until they prove that for four quarters they can resemble the Ravens we see at M&T; Bank Stadium, I’m never going to feel good about picking them to win on the road like I did in the newspaper this weekend. And these four predictions sure to go wrong? Needless to say, there isn’t too much confidence there either.
1. THE RAVENS SCORE 13-PLUS POINTS IN THE FIRST HALF
It seems like forever since the Ravens offense hit the road and accelerated into halftime, but they actually led the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-7, at halftime in their first road game of the season. I’m sure the guys in the offensive huddle would like nothing more -- besides a win, of course -- than to start strong and silence all the questions about their lack of execution on the road. (And trust me, we in the media are sick of asking them about it every other week, too.) With a couple of weeks to tinker and with pressure mounting to make sure Rice is involved on the road, I see the Ravens grounding, pounding and getting into an early groove Sunday.
2. RAY RICE AND BERNARD PIERCE WILL BOTH SCORE TDs
I think you’re going to quickly pick up on a common theme here, and if these predictions are right, I’m sure it will be a relief to the “Can Cam Cameron” crowd. The Ravens have rumbled for 290 rushing yards, 193, 128 and 161 in their past four games in Cleveland. Rice has topped 150 rushing yards in two of his four games there, including his career-high 204 rushing yards last season. Given their remarkable success, the Ravens would be crazy not to run the ball, and players have hinted at a run-heavy gameplan Sunday. Rice getting into the end zone is a gimme, but how about rookie back Bernard Pierce getting his first NFL touchdown, too?
3. JOSH GORDON WILL BEAT THE RAVENS FOR A BIG GAIN
Rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon hadn’t yet emerged when the Browns traveled to Baltimore in Week 4. He had just one catch for 16 yards in a 23-16 Ravens win. But in the past four games, Gordon, whom the Browns gave up a 2013 second-round draft pick in the supplemental draft to acquire, has caught 10 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns. With 17 catches for 379 yards this season, the rookie leads all qualifying players with an average of 22.3 yards per catch. Gordon has scored two receiving touchdowns of at least 62 yards, and I see him getting behind the Ravens secondary Sunday for a big gain of, let’s say, 40 or more yards.
4. THE RAVENS WILL PICK UP AT LEAST 20 FIRST DOWNS
Getting back to the ball control theme I alluded to in the first two predictions -- man, I’m going to feel like an idiot when Flacco throws 50 passes against the Browns -- I see the Ravens executing better on third down and sustaining a few long drives. The Ravens haven’t picked up 20 first downs in a game since beating the Browns in Week 4, but if they continue to have success running the ball in Cleveland, they will get there Sunday.