The Cleveland Browns put a hurting on my Ravens last year, and to only make it worse, did so with a QB that the Ravens deemed uninterested enough in so as to let the Browns snatch him away off of their practice squad without nary a complaint. Derek Anderson went on to have a Pro Bowl season and was richly rewarded with a $27 million contract extension. Meanwhile the Ravens are still at a loss to determine who will be their QB when the 2008 season kicks off in September.
However, it really doesn't matter to me when determining the winner in each of these games. While the QB position may be the single most important individual position on the field, this is a team game and it's rare that one specific player is the reason a team either wins or loses, unless of course, your name is Steve McNair (or former coach Brian Billick). In my opinion, the key to an offense's success starts and stops with the offensive line. The retirement of All-World left tackle Jon Ogden is a great loss to the team, but it allows the team to finally set guys into place where they could easily remain for years, and consistency in those positions will ultimately equal success.
Therefore, by game three, I believe we will be seeing an improved pass protection as they get comfortable with whomever the QB ends up being (I still want to see Troy Smith in there). The run blocking should be very good, with both Willis McGahee and rookie Ray Rice blasting through holes. At the same time, regardless of who the QB is, I expect opposing defenses to stack the box with eight or even nine guys, just daring the Ravens to beat them through the air. With the multi-facet abilities of Troy Smith at the helm, he should be able to confuse and tire out defenses with his rolling out and scrambling abilities. This should tire out the Browns defenders, as they've totally revamped their defensive front with big plodding tackles who take up space but don't move too well. The Ravens will trap the Browns interior defense and Smith will roll out and move around until his receivers get open against what is still a very poor Browns secondary and their weak link.
On the defensive side of the ball, I am not yet convinced that Derek Anderson will replicate his 2007 season. That is probably why second string QB Brady Quinn is biting his tongue and being patient, as he also knows his time is coming and it could end up being sooner rather than later. The Ravens defense should be healthy and ready to make opposing teams pay for what happened last year. Browns running back and former Raven Jamal Lewis will be bottled up at the line of scrimmage, as he stutter steps to his huge three yards per carry average. The pass rush against a relatively immobile Anderson will pressure him and cause him to lose his cool and that won't bode well in enemy territory, where the Ravens' fans will make a lot of noise in support of Ray Lewis and friends.
If the Ravens players all remain healthy, they have a much better chance of looking like 2006's 13-3 team as opposed to 2007's 5-11 trainwreck. Game 3 should be similar to game 1 and the Ravens win a close game at home.
Ravens: 26 Browns: 20
Season Record: 2-1