Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens Pick
Cleveland Browns (7-7-1 SU, 9-6 ATS) vs. Baltimore Ravens (9-6 SU, 8-7 ATS)
NFL Week 17
Date/Time: Sunday, December 30, 2018 at 1PM EST
Where: MT&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland
Point Spread: CLE +5.5/BAL -5.5
Over/Under Total: 41
The Cleveland Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens in big week 17 AFC North action on Sunday. It’s a big game, especially for the Ravens. The range of possibilities is wide. With a win, the Ravens win the AFC North and will host a game on wild-card weekend. They can even lose, and if Pittsburgh loses, they still win the division and get the four-seed. But if Cleveland is able to spoil, a few things could happen that shut Baltimore out of the playoff picture altogether. Nevertheless, I like the Browns to cover the spread this week on the road.
Looking Back at the First Battle
These division teams already met this season, with Cleveland winning at home, 12-9, in overtime. That game was on October 7, making it even less of an iron-clad tidbit to use for the purposes of this game. Joe Flacco threw 56 passes in that game and with run-heavy Lamar Jackson now under center for the Ravens, it shows how much their sensibilities have shifted since that first matchup. In addition, the Ravens have been streaky this season, and that game came during a stretch where they lost 4 of 5 games, which threatened to derail their whole year. Still, with one loss in the AFC North all season, it shows how far the Browns have come.
High Spirits of the Browns
Up until this season, this would appear to be a lay-up for a hard-charging Ravens’ team looking to win their way into the playoffs. But this particular version of the Browns would appear to be a very difficult opponent in this spot. It’s not often in recent seasons that you can say Cleveland is coming off 5 wins in their last 6 games. They are having fun on the field and really relishing in their newfound winning ways. While eliminated from the playoffs, they don’t show the spirit of a team that has nothing to play for. If anything, their enthusiasm on the field and the fact that they could finish the season above .500 should give way to a high-energy performance on Sunday. If ever a team looked to be the ideal spoiler, it would appear to be the Browns.
Making Problems for the Browns
Unlike the Ravens, the Browns have the same offense from the first game where they managed a scant 12 points, albeit in a winning cause. A lot has changed since then, as QB Baker Mayfield has come around nicely over the course of his rookie season. He has been more-prolific lately, bolstered by the growth of another rookie in RB Nick Chubb. He was over 100 yards again on Sunday and has been one of the better backs in the league since week 6. But while the offense has gotten better, the defense they are playing has also improved and might be the best “D” in the league heading into this matchup.
On Sunday, we saw the Baltimore defense at its best, against a hot Chargers’ team that has a powerful offense. With Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey each getting picks and Tavon Young returning a fumble for a TD, the secondary again showed their playmaking fangs. They were stout, with the Chargers managing about 200 yards of total offense. They have been robust as of late against both the run and the pass. Opponents have been held to a combined 22 points in their last two games. They can rush the heck out of the passer. No defense has given up fewer points this season. Cleveland is riding high, but how much offense will they be able to muster in this tough road-spot against a Ravens team fighting for its life?
Though they have been better in this area lately, the Cleveland defense isn’t great against the run. And lately, Baltimore has been running the heck out of the ball. Ever since throwing rookie Lamar Jackson behind center, the rookie has given this offense a new dimension. With Jackson making it like there’s another running back, he and Gus Edwards have been running over opponents of late. This stands out as the most-compelling quirk of this matchup. The Ravens didn’t have this ground-menace the first time around, and they look to wield it on the Cleveland on Sunday in a big way.
Daylight for the Browns
With all that said, a team that rises as Cleveland has this season can’t be undersold. Team spirit counts for a lot this time of the year when you’re talking about non-playoff teams, it really counts for something. For a lot of teams, this would be a tough spot, but the Browns are in a good headspace. On Sunday in the win over Cincy, Mayfield threw for 284 yards and three scores, with Jarvis Landry even completing a 63-yard pass. Baltimore’s defense is hard to crack, but Cleveland has developed a plethora of aerial weapons, with Landry, TE David Njoku, Rashard Higgins, Duke Johnson, and others. It’s a lot to contain, along with Chubb.
It’s important to note that urgency doesn’t always register as planned. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense that the Ravens would want this more, having fought like cats and dogs to get into a position to win their way into the postseason. But if you go back to all the last-week games over the years and bet ATS on the team that supposedly needs it more, you’d have gotten killed. The Browns won’t be an easy team to dissuade on Sunday.
Take the Points on the Road Underdog
The Ravens are at home, with the prospects of winning their way into the playoffs, and on a nice roll. Their “D” is rolling, and they’ve gotten a new lease on life on offense with the insertion of Jackson giving way to a powerful run game. I just think the Browns will be able to counter that and keep this one close. I see this game being a bit of a grind for both teams, with Cleveland getting out of Baltimore with the big week 17 cover.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Cleveland Browns plus points. Speaking of picks, did you know that you can get our experts’ best bets by visiting our Free Picks Page. Selections on NFL, NCAA football and basketball and get West’s NBA game picks that have been on fire!