- The Cleveland Browns are -3 point home favorites over the Baltimore Ravens
- Cleveland is 2-1 SU/ATS and coming off a 24-3 win over the Tennessee Titans.
- Baltimore is 2-1 SU/ATS and enter this game off an outright loss to the Indianapolis Colts as -7.5 point home favorites.
One of the most dangerous things to do when handicapping any sport is to let your perception of a team’s recent history cloud your judgement over their present situation. In other words, just because a team was bad last year or for the last few years it doesn’t mean that they’ll continue to be a doormat. The concept works in the other direction as well–a team with a long winning tradition can and will go through a losing run of indeterminate length. Both concepts will be at play in Cleveland on Sunday (October 1) as the Browns host the Baltimore Ravens.
Both teams come into the contest 2-1 SU and ATS but the kneejerk reaction is to assume that this performance could very well be ‘phony’ in the case of the Browns. It’s hard to have much confidence in a team that has been as bad and for as long as Cleveland. They’ve had only two winning seasons in the past twenty years. They were at their worst during the Hue Jackson era (2016-2017) going 1-15 SU in 2016 and 0-16 SU in 2017. The quarterback situation remains unsettled even though the team made a significant investment in former Houston Texans signal caller Deshaun Watson.
Baltimore, meanwhile, has been an elite franchise for as most of the past two decades. They’ve finished under .500 only four times in the past twenty years. Going back just a little further, they’ve won two Super Bowl championships in 2000 and 2012. They’ve made the playoffs in four of the last five seasons though they made it past the opening round only once in that span. Quarterback Lamar Jackson won the MVP Award in 2019 and head coach John Harbaugh is on a short list of the most respected in the league.
In Week 1, we gave out an easy winner on the Browns as a +2 home underdog against the Cincinnati Bengals. Here’s a short blurb from that writeup:
Browns upgraded their defense in the offseason by bringing in Jim Schwartz as coordinator. Cleveland’s ‘D’ looked good in the preseason with 9 INTs and if they can carry this tendency over to the regular season they could make life surprisingly difficult for Burrow and the Bengals.
The Ravens also made a major change, bringing in offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Monken spent the past three years as the OC at the University of Georgia and won two National Championships in the process. He’s trying to remake the Ravens as a more pass oriented team and the jury is still out on QB Jackson’s ability to thrive as a downfield passer. After three games, the Ravens are ranked #14 in scoring offense, #24 in passing offense and #12 in total offense. The running game is still strong with the Ravens at #5 but given the mandate to become more of a downfield passing team that’s not necessary a good thing.
So how is Jim Schwartz doing with the Browns’ defense? Take a look at the team stats rankings. Cleveland is ranked #1 in total defense, #1 in passing defense, #2 in rushing defense and #1 in scoring defense. They’ve allowed a total of 32 points this year, 26 of which came in a 26-22 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2. In their other two games they allowed three points in each. Of course, three games is a ‘short sample size’ but when was the last time that Cleveland was anywhere near the top statistical defense in the league?
A bigger issue with Baltimore could be injuries. With the exception of Aaron Rodgers, the Browns’ losing running back Nick Chubb for the season might be the highest profile injury to date. His loss has somewhat overshadowed the Ravens’ injury situation in this matchup which is extremely dire. Two of the team’s three top wide receivers (Odell Beckham, Jr. and Rashod Bateman) are listed as ‘questionable’. They do catch a break at running back where Gus Williams has been upgraded to probable but the defense and offensive line remain decimated by injuries.
Given Baltimore’s injury situation, the best defensive unit in this matchup will belong to the Browns. The best offensive and defensive line as well. Lamar Jackson would probably get the edge at quarterback given Deshaun Watson’s struggles in the first two games but he’s coming off a very solid performance against Tennessee (27 for 33, 289 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs). With the dramatic improvement in Cleveland’s defense all they need is for Watson to do is ‘be solid’. With the Browns a -3 point home favorite it suggests that on a neutral field these teams are evenly matched. Not hard to consider Cleveland the better team at this point when you factor in the Ravens’ injuries. Cleveland covered both matchups against Baltimore last year going 1-1 SU. Interesting to note that despite the Browns’ improved defense–and vastly improved defensive coaching–the price on this game is identical to the matchup in Cleveland against the Ravens last year. Cleveland heads into bye week with a big divisional win.