The Baltimore Raven have every intention of sending a message to the rest of the NFL that their previous frustrations of losing on the road to inferior teams is a thing of the past and the Cleveland Browns will face the brunt of their wrath this afternoon. The Ravens might have won their past two games against tough teams, the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers, but both of those victories came in the cozy confines of Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
While the Ravens have proven they can win on the road as evidenced by their hard earned win at the Pittsburgh Steelers, they have faltered as visitors to teams they seemed to be superior to prior to losing and playing poor football on both sides of the ball. The Ravens are leading the AFC North and in the hunt for the top seed in the playoffs with the reward of a possible first round bye and home playoff game for the first time in the past four years, The stakes are now considerably higher than they have been in the past, as a win today and the Ravens move to 4-0 in the division and stick with the New England Patriots for the top spot in the AFC playoff race for home field advantage.
A loss could not only mean they risk falling further behind the Patriots in that race, but more importantly, they could also fall out of the lead in the AFC North if the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Bengals for the second time this season. If Cincinnati upsets Pittsburgh, it could create a three-way tie atop the division, although Baltimore currently holds the tie-breakers by virtue of their wins over both teams.
That won't be an issue today as the combination of what's at stake along with their natural rivalry with the Browns should be enough to make the Ravens realize the importance of the game regardless of the obvious inferiority of the Browns as the opponent. The Ravens swept the Browns in 2010 and should be able to do the same thing this season. While Cleveland may statistically have the top ranked pass defense in the league, it is only a factor of having one of the worst run defenses that causes most teams to virtually ignore their passing games and just ram the ball down the throats of the Browns all game long.
That should be the focus of Baltimore's game plan although don't be surprised if the Ravens prove they can do what they want when they want and have a few big plays through the air on their way to a big win. The weather forecast for game time is rain, which feeds into the run game and you can expect the Ravens to give the Browns a heavy dose of Ray Rice while shutting down Cleveland's answer of Peyton Hillis. The Ravens top ranked pass rush was on display in their last game and Cleveland's Colt McCoy won't be able to escape them any better than the 49ers Alex Smith, which means if the Ravens take a decent lead, it could get ugly.
The Ravens have a chance to do something special this season and there is no way they let the Browns derail this continuing journey. Cleveland may be able to stand in the way of former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell's road to being rightfully inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but they won't knock Baltimore off stride this weekend, as the Ravens roll to victory.