After their Week 4 matchup last season, the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens were tied at the top of the AFC North with 2-2 records. By the time they squared off again in Week 16, the Ravens had rattled off 10 wins in a row and were about to clinch the top seed of the AFC. The Browns had struggled mightily since knocking off Baltimore, stumbling to a 4-6 record. In Week 16, Baltimore exacted their revenge, vaulting their record to 13-2 before winning their 14th game the next week. Cleveland lost again, falling to 6-10.
Heading into 2020, both teams remain intact for the most part. Baltimore replaced stalwarts Marshal Yanda and Michael Pierce with D.J. Fluker and Calais Campbell at right guard and defensive tackle respectively. The only glaring omission from Baltimore’s stellar 2019 unit is Earl Thomas who Baltimore cut before the season started. Thomas will be replaced by some mixture of DeShon Elliott and Anthony Levine, but watch out for Geno Stone to rise up the depth charts throughout the season.
Baltimore was the NFL’s highest-scoring offense last season, racking up an obscene 33.2 points per game. They were led by unanimous MVP Lamar Jackson and his 36 passing touchdowns, 1,206 rushing yards; a vast improvement from his rookie campaign. Defensively, the numbers jump off the page. They were top-five in points and yards allowed, but they played above their talent level. This season, the Ravens have the talent to match the moniker of elite defense as Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters lead the unit as All-Pro cornerbacks. Chuck Clark will replace some of Thomas’s production, and the pass rush will be better than in 2019. Along with Campbell, the Ravens brought in Derek Wolfe while retaining Matt Judon via the franchise tag.
For Cleveland, their biggest change is at head coach. Freddie Kitchens is out, and former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is in. Stefanski will be an improvement over Kitchens, but will the offense thrive in 2020? The Browns have a duo of great running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends with Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham, and Austin Hooper leading the lines. The offensive line was improved in the off-season with the selection of Jedrick Wills in the draft and the acquisition of Jack Conklin in free agency.
Defensively, the Browns are ailing. They lost second-round pick and projected starting free safety Grant Delpit to a season-ending Achilles injury. Cleveland will also be without starting linebacker Mack Wilson and two corners: Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson. However, injuries crushed the Browns before their Week 4 matchup with Baltimore last season, and they cruised to a 15-point win. It would be difficult to ask such a young defense to beat a juggernaut, but the Browns will have Myles Garrett in uniform for the first time since he was suspended for whacking Mason Rudolph with a helmet. Garrett had 10 sacks in 10 games and expect him to disrupt Baltimore on Sunday.
Date: Sept. 13, 2020
Start time: 1 p.m.
Location: Baltimore, Md.
Stadium: M&T Bank Stadium (No fans)
TV Info: CBS
Point Spread: Ravens (-7.5)
Moneyline: Ravens (-335), Browns (+285)
In 2019, Ravens only covered the spread in seven of 12 games they played as the favorite. One game they did not cover was their home game against the Browns, an identical 7.5-point spread to the one on Sunday. The Browns went 1-4 as the underdog both against the spread and straight-up, beating Baltimore.
Baltimore should win, but the Browns will keep it within a touchdown. While both defenses are not as good as they were projected to be just a few weeks ago, expect the offenses to be slightly stagnant without preseason games to prepare. In a quiet offensive game, take the Browns with the points and take the under as the Ravens prevail. As a note, the Browns have not started a season with a win since 2004 when they knocked off the Ravens.
Cleveland Browns 21, Baltimore Ravens 26
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