The best two running teams in the NFL face off in Cleveland as the Baltimore Ravens visit the Browns in a crucial encounter. Ben Steele previews the Monday night football action...
"Garrett is the star, but the rest of the defence have stepped up too and the whole defence have forced 20 turnovers, a total that can only be bettered by the Dolphins, Rams and Steelers. However, the Ravens aren't far behind."
Ravens and Browns both looking to run the gauntlet
The AFC playoff race steps in to another gear this weekend. On Sunday we saw three different games that will have a direct outcome on the playoff picture, giving both the Ravens and the Browns a chance to gain ground before the final few fixtures of the season. After tonight Cleveland face the New York Giants and Jets before finishing with a humdinger against their other division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. For Baltimore, tonight's game is their last time against a team with a winning record in 2020.
It is possible for either team to lose tonight and still make the playoffs but a win would be a huge step forward in the hunt. With so much on the line, both teams will turn to their main offensive strength, and try to dominate the run game.
In Week 13, the Ravens had a field day on the ground, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and Lamar Jackson all had over 70 rushing yards as they overtook the Browns to become the best rushing attack in the NFL. The Ravens backfield is a hybrid situation that essentially consists of Jackson and whichever running back is having success, with veteran Mark Ingram providing the third option.
Quarterback Jackson is the most consistent threat for Baltimore and would love to make his mark on the game against fellow 2018 first round quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Cleveland's quarterback was exceptional last week but struggled against Baltimore earlier in the season, so he will undoubtedly turn to the exceptional running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The pair offer very different skillsets. Hunt is one of the best pass catching backs in the league, while Chubb has been a scoring machine, leading the Browns in touchdowns.
Chubb has scored in three of his last four games, since returning from injury and I'd expect him to find the endzone once again. A Same Game Multi of Chubb and Lamar Jackson to score a touchdown looks like good value.
Opportunistic defences can add to offensive fireworks
Last week the Browns almost produced the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde performance, scoring 38 points in the first half before conceding 28 in the second as they were forced to hold on to a 41-35 victory over the Tennessee Titans. That game showcased the weapons available to Head Coach Kevin Stefanski as Mayfield threw four touchdowns to four different receivers but his defence have also shown the ability to force turnovers and help put the team in scoring position.
Defensive end Myles Garrett has spent most of the 2020 season disrupting offensive gameplans, leading the team in sacks (with 10.5) and causing four fumbles. Garrett is the star, but the rest of the defence have stepped up too and the whole defence have forced 20 turnovers, a total that can only be bettered by the Dolphins, Rams and Steelers. However, the Ravens aren't far behind.
Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey has six forced fumbles of his own this season, the only player with more than Garrett. Three of those were returned for touchdowns as Baltimore's defence have produced 18 turnovers in 2020, with their offensive teammates often profiting. In fact, the support of the defence along with the ability of Lamar Jackson has turned Baltimore into one of the best scoring teams in the NFL over the last few years.
In 31 of Jackson's 32 career starts, the Ravens have scored at least 20 points and despite the effectiveness of Cleveland's defence I'd expect that run to continue on Monday night, with the Browns' offensive ability there for all to see. I expect a high scoring game with well over 46.5 points scored as a crucial matchup goes down to the wire.
Baker hunting third Baltimore beating
When Baker Mayfield was picked first overall in 2018 he came in to a team who had a 1-31 record over the last two seasons and who had been whipping boys of their division for much longer than just two years. He was seen as the man to change the culture in Cleveland and now, in his third season, that seems to be coming to fruition. A win tonight would secure the franchise's first 10 win season for 12 years, but would also have an extra level of significance in the AFC North.
A win would be Mayfield's third against the Ravens, making him the most successful Browns quarterback against Baltimore, and would exact a degree of revenge for last season when a Ravens victory eliminated the Browns from playoff contention. Mayfield is yet to make the playoffs but it feels like just a matter of time for the 25-year-old and the revitalised Browns. After losses for Las Vegas and Miami yesterday, his side are firmly positioned as the fifth seed in the playoff race and hold the tiebreaker over the fourth seeded Tennessee Titans if they can match Tennessee's record, so a 17 year playoff drought looks set to end.
Facing a Ravens team who have had an inconsistent season and have occasionally struggled to get going I think a Cleveland Browns to win at 29/20 is great value, particularly when you look at some of the signature wins Mayfield and his teammates have been able to put together this term.
Ben Steele NFL P/L:
Staked: 50 points
Returned: 49.5 points
P/L: -0.5 points