CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 04: Running back Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 4, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
The song says something like, "Cleveland rocks!" However, later today, the statement should be "Cleveland gets rocked" as the Baltimore Ravens hope to complete their sweep of the season series with a win for the second time in the last three weeks. In week 13, the Ravens beat the Browns in a game nowhere as close as the score indicated. Settling for field goals when touchdowns could have been scored and missing out on fourth down conversions allowed Cleveland to think they had a shot to compete until late in the game. The stadium crowd couldn't help, as it was sparse to say the least.
This afternoon, they Browns will look up into the stands and see a rare thing, which will be another sellout crowd at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. Ravens fans will be looking for a much earlier knockout punch to satisfy their frustrations on the team's poor performance on the road this season. If the Ravens come out as expected, there is no reason why this game should not be over by halftime. Despite the loss of WR Anquan Boldin, the Ravens have way too much on both sides of the ball for Cleveland to compete with.
Perhaps the best thing that the Browns could have hoped for is that QB Seneca Wallace will be a much bigger challenge for the Ravens defense than Colt McCoy would have been. Wallace is smaller but much more athletic than McCoy and will extend plays that otherwise would have ended with Colt at QB. Either way, the outcome will be no different, as Wallacce does not have the horses around him to complement his skill set.
In their first meeting, the Ravens ran all over the Browns and the word is that Cleveland is playing for pride and plans on doing whatever they need to to slow down or stop Ray Rice and Ricky Williams from racking up close to 300 yards on the ground as they did last time the two teams met. That could mean stacking the box and daring QB Joe Flacco to beat the with his arm, a challenge Joe will gladly answer.
Stacking the box could also mean that a quick burst up the middle or off tackle by Rice or Williams could result in breakaway run for huge yardage and possible quick strikes in the passing game against what could be one-on-one coverage. Look for a big day for rookie WR Torrey Smith and a nice return to prominence for veteran WR Lee Evans, starting in Anquan Boldin's place.
Perhaps we will have a Tandon Doss sighting for a significant amount of tie for the first time this season and also expect the Ravens pair of tight ends to create match-up nightmares for the Browns, whether covered by an undersized defensive back or a slow-footed linebacker.
It looks like double jeopardy for the Browns as if they focus on the run, they will get burned through the air and if they back off the line of scrimmage, we could see a repeat performance from the running game that, while not quite a NFL record-setting one like former Ravens RB Jamal Lewis did in 2003, but enough of one to make this game the one-sided affair that fans would like this to be.
A win today keeps the Ravens in first place in the AFC North and a bye in the first round of the playoffs regardless of what everyone else in the hunt does today. Thanks to the Ravens for the early Christmas present.
Merry Christmas everyone!