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Ravens News 12/26: Playoff destiny, dangerous Browns and more

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens Won’t Rehash the Past, But Are Driven By It - Clifton Brown

The past two Decembers have ended in disappointment for the Ravens. Baltimore was in the same situation last year, just needed to beat the Bengals, who were out of the playoff chase, at home to get into the postseason. Instead, the Ravens were eliminated on a fourth-and-12 heartbreaker.

In 2016, the Ravens were eliminated on Christmas night, losing in the final seconds to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16.

Head Coach John Harbaugh said players and coaches remember vividly how the past two seasons have ended. They don’t need to rehash it this time around.

Defeating Cleveland is not a simple task, the Browns have won five of their last six games. If the Ravens earn the Week 17 victory, they will win the AFC North division for the first time since 2012.

Baltimore Controls Playoff Destiny, but Cleveland Won’t Make It Easy - Scott Gramling

Hue Jackson’s third and final win as Browns head coach came in Week 5 this season, when Cleveland took down division rival Baltimore 12-9 at home. It was an ugly game from start to finish, with the Browns winning with two seconds remaining in overtime on a 37-yard knuckleball of a field goal to avoid a second tie in the season’s first five weeks. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 342 yards and a touchdown in his first win as a starter, and Cleveland’s defense forced Baltimore’s Joe Flacco-led offense into two turnovers.

Both teams look very different heading into the season finale. Hue Jackson was fired by the Browns after Week 8, and Cleveland interim head coach Gregg Williams has led the team to a 5-2 straight up and 4-3 against the spread since then. The Browns have gained some recent experience against a mobile quarterback, having held Carolina’s Cam Newton to 23 yards on the ground in a Week 14 victory.

Baltimore had notched five straight wins over Cleveland before the Week 5 failure.

NFL odds, picks for Week 17: Advanced computer model loving Ravens and Texans - CBS

One of the top Week 17 NFL picks the model recommends: the Ravens (-5.5) cover the spread against the Browns as they look to wrap up the AFC North.

Baltimore’s Week 16 win over the Chargers, coupled with the Steelers’ loss to the Saints, put the Ravens in control of their own destiny in the division entering the final week of the regular season. Even against a much-improved Cleveland squad, the model projects the Ravens roll to a big win that covers the spread in almost 60 percent of simulations. The Over (41) also has plenty of value because that hits in well over half of simulations.

The ELO model predicts the Ravens have an 81-percent win probability.

Why the Cleveland Browns can beat the Baltimore Ravens - Sam Quinn

The difference is that the Browns have done it on both sides of the ball. The Ravens are averaging only 339 yards of offense per game during that span, which would be 23rd in the NFL over the full season. The Browns have allowed only 335 yards per game during their hot streak, which would be ninth in the NFL, ironically right ahead of the Steelers. They have, essentially, been a top-10 team on both sides of the ball recently. The Ravens have been a terrific defensive group that has tailored their offense around that specific trait.

But playing that style against teams that are so good on both sides of the ball is very difficult. The Ravens rely on intense ball control to keep their defense rested. They have won the time of possession battle in every game Lamar Jackson has started. But if the Browns can contain him, they can easily swing that pendulum back in their direction with Nick Chubb, one of the NFL’s best runners in the second half of the season. If they win the time of possession battle, Baltimore’s defense becomes less effective by sheer virtue of spending more time on the field and getting tired. If the Browns do manage to build a lead, they force the Ravens to play offense the way that every other team in the NFL does: by passing the ball.

With the mobility to evade pass rushers and the accuracy to thread passes into tight windows, Baker Mayfield poses a legitimate challenge for the Ravens defense. The rookie quarterback has tossed 24 touchdowns and led four game-winning drives in a dozen starts this season.