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Ravens vs. Browns: Must-Win Game Today & Needing Bess to Step Up - The Sunday Five

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Cleveland Browns fans, and welcome to gameday! Be sure to check out our game preview and prediction for the Browns' Week 9 contest today against the Baltimore Ravens. In this week's edition of "The Sunday Five," I talk about the Browns' playoff hopes hinging on today's game, the signing of OT Reid Fragel, needing WR Davone Bess to step his game up, and more.

Bullet_mediumOn Thursday, I discussed the playoff chances for the Browns. That entire scenario, as well as the hope for the rest of the season, depends on today's game against the Ravens. Rarely do I refer to a game as a must-win game, but this is most certainly a must-win game for the Browns.

Falling to 3-6 would mean that the Browns would have to finish the season at 5-2, something that would be quite difficult to achieve -- you leave yourself very little margin for error. Let's assume Cleveland beats Baltimore, improving their record to 4-5. For the wildcard race, I think Cleveland could get in at 8-8. In the AFC wildcard race, these are the relevant games today:

Saints vs. Jets
Chargers vs. Redskins
Titans vs. Rams
Eagles vs. Raiders
Chiefs vs. Bills

The most concerning teams right now are the Jets and the Chargers, each of whom have four wins (the Dolphins, too, who played on Thursday). The most ideal situation is for the Saints and the Redskins to win. The Rams, Eagles, or Chiefs winning would just be an added bonus, setting back several teams that are in similar positions as Cleveland. The Browns have some slight hopes in the AFC North race, too, with Cincinnati having lost to Miami on Thursday Night Football.

Bullet_mediumIf you are wondering who No. 10 is on Sunday, it is WR Armanti Edwards, who took the roster spot of WR Travis Benjamin. We talked about how Rob Chudzinski used Edwards last year with the Panthers in this post. With WR Charles Johnson finally reverting to IR, the Browns made another roster move by signing OT Reid Fragel off of the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad.

It's an unusual signing, given the fact that Cleveland already has several offensive linemen on their 53-man roster that they aren't even using: OG Garrett Gilkey, OL Patrick Lewis, and OT Martin Wallace. Maybe the Browns will try to keep Fragel for two weeks, and like him enough to have him on their practice squad. That move could be made if OG Jason Pinkston comes off of the short-term IR list.

Bullet_mediumThink back to all of the problems the Browns faced against the Ravens back in Week 2. QB Brandon Weeden wasn't playing well. WR Greg Little was dropping passes left and right. WR Josh Gordon wasn't available. RG Oniel Cousins was a starter. RB Chris Ogbonnaya and Weeden couldn't connect on a wheel route for a possible touchdown. Despite all of that, Cleveland was up 6-0 at halftime, and only lost 14-6. Despite all of that, who might be the biggest key this week against the Ravens? WR Davone Bess.

Last week in The Sunday Five, I challenged Bess to turn his recent struggles around against the Chiefs. Instead, things went to an all-time worst for Bess, who may have single-handedly cost Cleveland a chance to win the game. My expectation is that rather than punishing Bess, Cleveland will give him every opportunity to redeem himself this week. What other choice do we have? As fun as it sounds, you can't throw to Jordan Cameron or Josh Gordon on every play. Bess can work defenders well, and we have to believe that the consistent hands he's displayed for five years with the Dolphins will return.

Bullet_mediumOne of the more remarkable things this season is our utilization of TE Gary Barnidge. We keep him in as a blocker the majority of the time, so when we do send him out as a receiver, you would think he'd be wide open. Instead, he is getting hit immediately upon catching the ball. Our favorite route for him is the two-yard route into the flat. It's about time that Cleveland mixes things up a bit.

Barnidge is no Jordan Cameron as a receiver, but he's supposed to have some decent downfield ability. Cleveland could have some matchup advantages if they send both Cameron and Barnidge down the seams. In lieu of Barnidge's blocking (he usually helps RT Mitchell Schwartz), the Browns could have their running back help with a chip over there; they don't throw to the back much anyway.

Bullet_mediumIt's time to predict the inactives for today's game. Here are my guesses for the Browns' gameday inactives against the Ravens (there are seven inactives required): TE Keavon Milton, OL Patrick Lewis, OT Martin Wallace, OG Garrett Gilkey, OT Reid Fragel, ILB Darius Eubanks, and OLB Quentin Groves.

My projection would have DE Billy Winn returning to action, but Groves staying out another game. My projection about Eubanks last week didn't pan out, which is why I have him inactive this week.