In 2019, when the Ravens won 12 straight games and entered the playoffs as Super Bowl favorites, they led the NFL in point differential.
In 2020, when the Ravens rattled off five straight wins to clinch an 11-win season and postseason berth, they led the NFL in point differential.
This year has been a little different. Entering Week 12, the 7-3 Ravens trail only the 8-3 Tennessee Titans in the AFC, but their point differential is just plus-17, tied for seventh best in the conference. Their 16-13 win Sunday over the Chicago produces was their fifth fourth-quarter reappearance this season.
“To see the effort and the sacrifices that this team has made over the last 10 weeks, it’s just been inspiring,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “It’s something that we can definitely use as momentum going forward.”
They’ll take at any rate they can get at this point. Starting Sunday night against the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens will end the regular season with seven games against teams that currently have winning records.
Here’s how those games stack up, ranked from easiest to hardest. Unit-by-unit rankings are determined by Football Outsiders.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 18 in Baltimore)
Ranking: No. 21 offense, No. 25 defense, No. 15 special teams
Why they’re unprotected: This is not your father’s Steelers defense. Pittsburgh (5-4-1) has allowed at the minimum 19 points in seven of its past nine games. The two exceptions: a 16-16 tie with the winless Detroit Lions, played in cold and rainy conditions, and a 15-10 win over the Cleveland Browns and hobbled quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Injuries and illness have also been a problem. Defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt (knee) and Tyson Alualu (ankle) are on injured save and not expected to return soon. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick missed Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers while on the save/COVID-19 list. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt is playing by hip and knee injuries. And cornerback Joe Haden’s returning from a foot sprain.
Why they’re not: When have the Steelers ever let Lamar Jackson have his way? Over four starts against Pittsburgh, he’s completed just 57.9% of his passes, thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions and averaged just 4.2 yards per carry.
Watt should wreak havoc on the edge, especially if the Ravens can’t establish their run game. The Steelers’ defensive front won’t make that easy. Cameron Hayward is the NFL’s highest-graded run defender among interior linemen, according to Pro Football Focus, and former Raven Chris Wormley is seventh.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 13 in Pittsburgh)
Why they’re unprotected: This is not your father’s Steelers offense, either. According to Sharp Football Stats, Pittsburgh ranks 21st in explosive-run rate, 26th in explosive-pass rate and 28th in explosive-play rate. JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season-ending shoulder injury has limited Pittsburgh’s receiving corps, and so has its quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is averaging 6.9 air yards per pass attempt, the lowest mark of his career and one of the lowest in the NFL.
Rookie running back Najee Harris ranks second on the team in catches (49 for 337 yards and two touchdowns), but he’s averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. The Steelers’ overhauled offensive line has struggled to open holes, and injuries to starting guards Trai Turner and Kevin Dotson won’t help.
Why they’re not: Coach Mike Tomlin has never finished a season in Pittsburgh with a losing record. If the Steelers get there again, it’ll be because they protected Heinz Field. The Ravens have fared well in Pittsburgh in recent years, however, winning two of their past three games and nearly pulling the upset last year despite a coronavirus-ravaged list.
5. Cleveland Browns (Week 12 in Baltimore)
Ranking: No. 12 offense, No. 24 defense, No. 16 special teams
Why they’re unprotected: The Ravens have knocked a starting quarterback out of the game in two straight games. That’s not good news for the Browns (6-5) or Mayfield, who’s reportedly dealing with a bruised heel, a bruised knee and a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Over the past two games, a blowout loss to the New England Patriots and a thin win Sunday over the Lions, Mayfield went a combined 26-for-50 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Tight ends David Njoku and Austin Hooper might be his best options on pass plays, and the Ravens have done a substantial job stopping tight ends this year, ranking 16th in defensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.
Why they’re not: Myles Garrett ranks first in the NFL in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate. Fellow defensive end Jadeveon Clowney ranks second. The Ravens rank third to last in Football Outsiders’ modificated sack rate.
Need we say more?
4. Cincinnati Bengals (Week 16 in Cincinnati)
Ranking: No. 23 offense, No. 15 defense, No. 9 special teams
Why they’re unprotected: This Bengals offense isn’t as good as the Ravens made them look in Week 7. Take away that 41-17 romp, in which Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow passed for a career-high 416 yards and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine combined for 111 rushing yards, and the Bengals’ yards per play would drop from 5.8 (10th in the NFL) to 5.4 (20th).
Cincinnati’s past two outings have not inspired much confidence in a second-half turnaround on offense. In Week 9, before the Bengals’ bye, Burrow threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, in a 41-16 loss to the Browns. On Sunday, Burrow averaged just 5.1 yards per attempt and finished with 148 overall in a 32-13 road win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase hasn’t topped 49 yards in a game since his 201-yard outburst in Baltimore.
Why they’re not: Cincinnati (6-4) has the best run defense of any opponent remaining on the Ravens’ schedule, according to Football Outsiders. The Bengals made the Ravens’ offense one-dimensional in their first matchup, holding running backs Devonta Freeman, Ty’Son Williams and Le’Veon Bell to 11 carries for 29 yards. The Ravens finished with 115 rushing yards only because Jackson ran 12 times (six of them on scrambles) for 88 yards.
Those early-down struggles allowed Cincinnati’s pass rush to get after the Ravens, especially along the right side after tackle Patrick Mekari exited with an ankle injury. Bengals defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson combined for 3 ½ sacks, and Jackson finished 15-for-31 — his only game under 50% accuracy this season — for 257 yards and a touchdown.
3. Cleveland Browns (Week 14 in Cleveland)
Why they’re unprotected: The Browns’ pass rush might be elite, but their run defense is in tatters. The Patriots ran for 184 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry in Week 10. A week later, the Lions — the same Lions who came into the matchup with one of the NFL’s least impressive rushing offense — piled up 168 yards and 7.3 yards per carry.
Some help could be on the way: Coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday that he’s confident inside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (ankle), one of the league’s top rookies, will be able to play Sunday. But after what the Ravens did in Cleveland in their last meeting, rushing 32 times for 231 yards and five touchdowns, there’s only room for improvement.
Why they’re not: Owusu-Koramoah is not the only Browns standout set to return. Right tackle Jack Conklin (elbow) and running back Kareem Hunt (calf) are both expected to come off injured save and return to practice this week. Conklin was an All-Pro selection last season, and Hunt was averaging a career-high 5.2 yards per carry over his first six games this year, plus 8.1 yards per catch.
The Ravens have one of the NFL’s sturdier run defenses, ranking sixth in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics, but their thoroughness and tackling ability could be troublesome. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams hasn’t played since Week 7 because of a shoulder injury, and defensive end Derek Wolfe (back/hip) is out for the season. At inside linebacker, there’s maybe no greater test for the range of Josh Bynes and the strength of Patrick Queen than star running back Nick Chubb.
2. Green Bay Packers (Week 15 in Baltimore)
Ranking: No. 5 offense, No. 14 defense, No. 29 special teams
Why they’re unprotected: Much like the Ravens, Green Bay has an impressive record (8-3) but not an impressive begin again. The Packers are the NFL’s No. 13 team overall, according to Football Outsiders, two spots behind the 5-5 Minnesota Vikings and two spots ahead of the Ravens. Their top player, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has already missed time this season because of a coronavirus infection and is now dealing with an injury that he’s said is “a little worse than turf toe.”
There’s concern along the line of scrimmage, too. Standout offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins tore his ACL on Sunday. The left tackle he replaced, All-Pro David Bakhtiari, reportedly underwent arthroscopic surgery recently to clean up the knee he tore up last year and hasn’t returned to practice. Defensively, the Packers also rank in the bottom half of the NFL in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate (26th) and run-stop win rate (20th).
Why they’re not: For all the peculiarities and struggles of Rodgers’ season — the team’s COVID-19 sudden increase, his leadership shortcomings, his struggles to throw thorough — he nevertheless ranks fourth in the NFL in QBR, according to ESPN. A year after he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, Rodgers has completed 66.8% of his passes for 7.8 yards per attempt and thrown 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Wide receiver Davante Adams, always a nightmare to cover, is averaging a career-high 13.6 yards per catch.
already if Rodgers’ toe injury limits their aerial attack, reinforcements could raise an average Packers defense by Week 15. Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur said earlier this month that the team is hopeful that former Ravens outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (back) and All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) will return at some point this season.
1. Los Angeles Rams (Week 17 in Baltimore)
Ranking: No. 2 offense, No. 8 defense, No. 26 special teams
Why they’re unprotected: The Rams (7-3) might have things figured out by early January, but for now, they’re in a rough patch. Matthew Stafford, who leads the NFL in QBR, followed up the worst game of his season in Week 9 with an already worse performance in Week 10. In double-digit losses to the Titans and San Francisco 49ers, he averaged about 6 yards per pass attempt and finished with more interceptions than touchdowns.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s midseason addition made headlines, but the loss of Robert Woods to a torn ACL will probably prove more meaningful. He’s not only been a more productive receiver in recent years, but also versatile enough to unlock parts of the Rams’ creative running game. Stafford and star wide receiver Cooper Kupp will need help from the rest of an offense that lacks standout skill position players.
Why they’re not: Maybe no opponent would give the Ravens more headaches than an in-sync Rams team. If above-average quarterbacks can have career days against this pass defense, what could Stafford, Kupp and coach Sean McVay cook up?
On the other side of the ball, this isn’t the same Ravens offense that rushed for 285 yards and passed for five touchdowns in a 2019 romp in Los Angeles. Nor is it the same Rams defense, either. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is one of the NFL’s most principal players. Leonard Floyd and new addition Von Miller are a fearsome edge-rushing duo. And cornerback Jalen Ramsey can be counted on to mark just about any receiver out of a game.
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 3 ½
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