Romilly Evans predicts a surprise performance from Cleveland's rookies, as they bid to upset the formidable Baltimore defense
"Trent Richardson leads the Browns in both receptions (11) and total rushing (175 yards)"
After the officiating farce that was Monday night's game against the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens fans will be hoping for a more even-hoofed performance from the zebras, as their team are asked to play for the second time in four days. The quick turnaround is a big ask of the Ravens from the TV schedulers, but they do have two things going for them.
Firstly, at least they won this week's opening thriller against the Pats - a game whose ridiculous rulings saw Bill Belichick manhandle an official and an entire stadium register the loudest manure-related chant since records began. And secondly, the team on the other side of the pitch is the Cleveland Browns, who are the conference's only winless team to date. Further, the Ravens have won eight consecutive matches in their AFC North rivalry which more resembles an execution than a fight.
As you would expect, therefore, the Browns are considered 12-point "dogs" on the Vegas Moneyline (this week's biggest outsiders). For a team that has lost 12 of its last 13 games - and nine straight - even that mark may seem an insubstantial head-start. However, Cleveland don't look like an outfit wallowing in self-pity. In fact, there may even be grounds for hope that they might soon emerge from this mire of mediocrity.
After all, the promise of a better tomorrow is always carried by the next generation. And in rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson, Cleveland have a dynamic duo who could sow the seeds of recovery of offense. Potentially speaking, of course. The reality, for the moment, is somewhat different. Quarter-back Weeden is suffering the present ignominy of heading this season's interceptions lists with six, and was sacked four times during Sunday's 24-14 home loss to Buffalo. Ray Lewis and Co must be salivating at the prospect.
Still, it takes time to acclimatise to the heat of NFL battle and Weeden is a quick learner who won't need the oxygen tank much longer. In the plus column, he's already passed for 322 yards against Cincinnati - the most by a rookie this term - and has already found some offensive versatility with running back Trent Richardson, who leads the Browns in both receptions (11) and total rushing (175 yards).
Richardson is their meat-and-drink option and his battle with the Ravens D (who have been restricting opposition rushers to 3.3 yards per carry) could be the key territory. In the final analysis, the Browns may not have enough firepower to overcome the storied Ravens rush. But Baltimore just haven't been the same in the absence of injured defensive end, Terrell Suggs, and I can see Weeden making an impact, if he can improve his accuracy a smidge. Certainly enough to keep them comfortably inside the handicap.
Ravens QB, Joe Flacco, still looked edgy with the game on the line against New England (he should have been picked off twice in the fourth quarter). So don't expect him to relax the reins on his weary offense and throw with reckless abandon. Play the Unders in a game which should be closer than the stats would have you believe.