Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Kickoff: 10 a.m. PT
While it’s only Week 4, there’s a huge game in Baltimore today that could end up having ramifications on who takes the AFC North.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals not expected to contend, it’s these two division residents who will likely duke it out for first place.
Thus far, the Ravens look like the class of the group, and not just because they’re the only team of the four with a winning record (2-1). Second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson has quickly taken off and proven his doubters wrong with a sensational start to the campaign, even despite a lackluster showing a week ago in Kansas City. The offense is gelling and the defense has been mostly solid.
Cleveland, meanwhile, entered the year with arguably its most hype in franchise history. A Browns roster has certainly never been as star-studded on both sides of the ball, and while they only have a 1-2 record to show for it through the first three games, this is definitely still a team poised to be a main player throughout the season.
But it’s also one that is dealing with some adversity at the moment. The Browns had a chance to tie things up at the end of last week’s defeat in LA but Baker Mayfield was unable to lead them into the end zone despite a first-and-goal situation. Last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick then had to face well-documented criticism from the likes of Rex Ryan and even Antonio Brown (of which he fired back in both instances).
That’s a good thing, though, as far as leaning on the youngster his next time out. Being the ultimate competitor, it seems much more improbable Mayfield follows that up with another dud and subjects himself to additional criticism. Given the talent around him, it’s only a matter of time before the offense breaks out in a big way.
And despite Baltimore’s perennial reputation for having a strong defense, this isn’t — as I pointed out in last week’s victorious over bet — as strong a unit as in recent years. Well, considering Mayfield compiled two of his three highest-yardage outputs last year opposite the Ravens, there could be the makings of another exceptional game from the former Oklahoma Sooner in store.
In fact, in his two previous meetings with the Ravens, Mayfield totaled a whopping 718 yards and four touchdowns, though he also recorded four interceptions. Of course, his receiving corps, led by Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, is far superior to what he had to work with in 2018.
While the Ravens have allowed the second-fewest rushing yards, which might spell trouble for Nick Chubb at first glance, game flow was the biggest factor in that. Baltimore’s two wins came very comfortably, meaning they didn’t have to really deal with the opposing ground game.
Unlike Mayfield going first, Jackson was the one who bookended the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but it is the Ravens signal-caller who is out to the more impressive start this year. He actually owns a remarkable 113.9 passer rating through the first three games, ranking him fifth in the NFL, and while it’s not expected he maintains that pace, that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to lead an offense that regularly lights up the scoreboard.
Baltimore has compiled 110 points — although more than half of that output came in a laugher over the Miami Dolphins — but Jackson was able to guide his club to 28 points last week and almost keep up with, literally, one of the highest-scoring offenses in history.
This week’s assignment provides a more favorable matchup for Jackson. No, the Browns don’t sport a weak defense but it’s one that appears extra vulnerable when dealing with a scrambling quarterback, a title Jackson wears more prominently than any in pro football.
Cleveland has faced only one such QB this year, Marcus Mariota, and the Tennessee Titans managed to drop a whopping 43 points, which is nearly the over/under on its own for this contest.
They were opposed by five quarterbacks (Jackson, Jameis Winston, Patrick Mahomes, Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson) with this reputation a year ago and struggled there as well, surrendering 27.6 points on average in those games — including at least 20 in each one.
The hope is that this will be a competitive game, with the winner ideally compiling a point total in the high-20’s. That means if it is indeed close, there will be enough here to top the total. Play: OVER 45 (-110)
Last Week’s Result: Ravens-Chiefs Over 51 (WIN)
Zylbert’s 2019 NFL Over/Under Betting Record*: 3-1, +1.9 units
*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit