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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

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Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke Jones is the Ravens and Orioles beat reporter for WNST BaltimorePositive.com and is a PFWA member. His mind is consumed with useless sports knowledge, pro wrestler promos, and movie quotes, but he struggles to remember where he put his phone. Luke's favorite sports memories include being one of the thousands of kids who waited to get Cal Ripken's autograph after Orioles games in the summer of 1995, attending the Super Bowl XXXV victory parade with his father in the pouring rain, and watching the Terps advance to the Final Four at the Carrier Dome in 2002. Follow him on Twitter @BaltimoreLuke or email him at Luke@wnst.net.

Knowing what to expect from the Ravens is growing more difficult by the week, but the injury picture isn’t helping matters ahead of a pivotal AFC North meeting with Cleveland on Sunday.

We know running back J.K. Dobbins is out for the foreseeable future, but will Gus Edwards make his return to the backfield for Week 7?

While outside linebacker Justin Houston practiced on a limited basis this week after a three-game absence due to a groin injury, many are anticipating the 2022 debuts of Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo in the near future.

The Ravens hope to have wide receiver Rashod Bateman back in action against the Browns, but the 35-year-old DeSean Jackson was signed to the practice squad Wednesday and doesn’t figure to need too much time to be ready for game action.

Saturday’s 4 p.m. roster deadline will answer some of these roster questions, but Baltimore must also consider the Thursday game at Tampa Bay, a quick turnaround that always presents a challenge from a health standpoint.

“We’re definitely thinking about that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t know if it will hold anyone out for one or the other game or not, but that’s definitely something that’s kind of on my mind in terms of what’s the best way to approach it.”

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 47th time with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 34-12 advantage and a 23-5 edge in the Harbaugh era. These teams split the season series last year with the home team prevailing in each matchup.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will eclipse 180 rushing yards for the third time this season. Say what you want about a passing attack too often stuck in neutral for the better part of the last three weeks, but Baltimore is averaging an NFL-best 5.9 yards per carry to make its slow start in that department a distant memory. Meanwhile, the Browns rank 24th in rushing yards allowed per game (131.5), 26th in yards per carry allowed (5.0), and 30th in run defense efficiency. Even if Edwards is activated from the physically unable to perform list, Kenyan Drake and a healthy Justice Hill are the best bets to lead the backfield on Sunday. Though he didn’t carry a game status designation, it’s worth noting Lamar Jackson was limited by a hip issue early in the week, which might impact his willingness to run.

2. Browns tight end David Njoku will catch a touchdown to continue his hot start. While Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are strong bets to keep Cleveland wide receivers Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones from going off, the Ravens have surrendered a touchdown reception to a tight end in four of their six games and Njoku is the most talented one they’ve faced so far this season with Pro Football Focus grading him third among qualified tight ends. Over the last four games, the 26-year-old has caught 23 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown. Njoku isn’t Mark Andrews, of course, but he’s the kind of target Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett needs to sustain drives and the kind of pass catcher the Baltimore defense hasn’t been able to keep out of the end zone.

3. Baltimore will hold Nick Chubb under 80 rushing yards for just the second time in 2022. The 26-year-old running back is as good as they come in today’s game with a 5.9 yards per carry average, an NFL-best 649 rushing yards, and a league-leading 216 rushing yards over expected despite facing at least eight defenders in the box just over 29% of the time, which ranks fourth highest in the league. That said, the Ravens — who still rank an underwhelming 18th in yards per carry allowed (4.5) and 24th in run defense efficiency — are coming off a performance in which they held Saquon Barkley to 83 yards and 3.8 yards per carry with the bulk of that coming in the third quarter. The Browns also won’t have Pro Bowl right guard Wyatt Teller, which won’t help their chances. If Mike Macdonald’s defense can keep a dynamic back in check for a second straight week, the early concerns about the run defense can probably be put to rest.

4. Lamar Jackson will throw multiple touchdowns for the first time since Week 3. After a hot start passing the football, Jackson has thrown three touchdowns to four interceptions, averaged just 5.7 yards per pass attempt, and posted a 68.8 passer rating over the last three games, numbers a little too reminiscent of his midseason swoon last year. The star quarterback is obviously coming off a disastrous end to Week 6 and will be facing the team that picked him off a career-worst four times in Week 12 last season. That said, this Browns secondary has really underperformed compared to expectations and won’t have two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward, who remains in the concussion protocol. Jackson may also have the services of Bateman and possibly even DeSean Jackson, who can still bring a speed element to the outside if healthy. The superstar quarterback needs to put last week behind him, and the Browns have the pass defense ready to accommodate that sentiment as long as the offensive line keeps Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney — who are both banged up — from wrecking the pocket.

5. Harbaugh’s team will minimize the fourth-quarter drama with a 27-17 win. The Ravens have squandered double-digit leads in each of their three losses while Cleveland has held a fourth-quarter advantage in three of its four defeats, meaning something needs to give on Sunday afternoon. There should be no shortage of urgency for either team as the Browns don’t want to fall to 2-5 ahead of a four-game stretch that includes a meeting with rival Cincinnati, road games at Miami and Buffalo, and a tilt with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. If the Ravens fall at home to Cleveland on a day when more than 50 members of the Super Bowl XLVII team will be in attendance, all bets are off for a group that’s all but perfected looking like a legitimate contender for three quarters before too often folding over the final 15 minutes. Both Lamar Jackson and Humphrey preached this week about the Ravens needing to relax and not press so much in the high-leverage situations in which they’ve struggled, but they will start fast against the Browns and won’t look back with their ground game controlling the clock and shortening the game. It won’t be a perfect performance, but it should be more than enough with such a distinct advantage at the quarterback position. With back-to-back road games against Tampa Bay and New Orleans looming before the Week 10 bye, the Ravens can’t afford to lose this one on multiple levels.

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