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Sunday Morning Bloody Mary: Ravens Seek Playoff Berth In Cleveland

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The Baltimore Ravens only need one win in their final two games to assure themselves of a spot in the playoffs for the third consecutive season but prefer to get that goal out of the way this afternoon when they go to the "Mistake by the Lake" and take on the Cleveland Browns. The Browns might have a newer stadium, but it is still in the same city that can only boast the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a reason to travel there by choice.

The Ravens will try to sweep the Browns after beating them in Baltimore in week three of the 2010 regular season by a 24-17 score. In that game, Baltimore QB Joe Flacco found WR Anquan Boldin three times in the end zone for scores and while Cleveland RB Peyton Hllis had a breakout game with over 140 yards rushing, the Ravens managed to hold on for the victory. Since then Hillis has run around, over and through most of the league in his breakout season, but the Browns still lose more than they win.

Cleveland's last two games are at home against the Ravens and then the Steelers in the last game of the regular season. They would like nothing more than having a short two-game winning streak by upsetting their two AFC North division rivals. However, the Ravens need a win to not only guarantee their spot in the post season, but to keep pace and hope that Cleveland upsets Pittsburgh next week while they beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore to win the AFC North division title.

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In order for this to happen, the Ravens need to slow down Hillis and make the Browns go to the air in order to move the ball. The renewed Ravens defense is beginning to look a lot better than the one that kept on losing fourth quarter leads but shut the door against the New Orleans Saints last week in their 30-21 victory. The Saints offense is a lot better than the Browns so if the Ravens play anywhere near as well as they did on both sides of the ball in this game it should not be left to be decided in the fourth quarter.

Not only has the Ravens defense improved lately, so has their once dormant running game, which only makes their passing offense more dangerous when the opponent's defense has to creep closer to the line of scrimmage to try to stop it. That's when Flacco-to-Boldin is the most dangerous, as are the quick passes to Derrick Mason and the dump-offs to Ray Rice in the flat that turns short passes into back-breaking huge gains.

Expect the Ravens pass rush and defensive schemes to confuse rookie QB Colt McCoy, who has played surprisingly well in his few starts so far. However, the Ravens defense is a much tougher challenge than what he has experienced so far in his pro career and he will not be able to have time and the mistakes will be costly. The Ravens offense will put more than enough points on the scoreboard to win this game, but the defense will also contribute to put it out of reach from the Browns. While I do not expect the game to be high scoring, the Browns offense will not have the same success they had earlier this season moving the ball against the Ravens, so that a decent lead should be able to hold up once the game hits the fourth quarter.

A win for the Ravens puts them in the playoffs but they will still be waiting for the Bengals to stop their three game winning streak against them and finally beat them in the last game of the regular season and hope that can help propel them to the AFC North division title with a little help from the Browns next week, ...but not this week!

Ravens:  20-9