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Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens: Week 17 Game Preview & Prediction

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This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are trying to salvage their slim hopes of making the postseason, while the Browns are trying to get to .500. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation

Pos Advantage Reason
QB -

Browns: Connor Shaw will make his NFL debut this week. DBN's Tim Miller did a couple of scouting reports on Shaw this week (Part 1 | Part 2). The circumstances feel similar to when Thaddeus Lewis made his first career start against the Steelers in Week 17 a few years ago. Shaw showed a habit of rolling to his left in the preseason, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the Ravens' defense force him the other way.

Ravens: The Browns have beaten Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger this season, so the only name to cross off the list is Joe Flacco. Flacco had one of the worst games of his career last Sunday, particularly in the first half, but is 12-1 all-time against the Browns. He no doubt has the experience edge over Connor Shaw and if he gets the Ravens to the playoffs, he's done some stellar work in the postseason.

RB -

Browns: It's pretty clear that the success of the running game for Cleveland was dependent on Alex Mack being in the lineup. Heading into next year, it's less clear what to make of the position. Isaiah Crowell seems to trip himself up quite often, Terrance West has practice week and/or fumbling issues, and Glenn Winston has been touted by the coaching staff yet hasn't played a snap.

Ravens: If the whole Ray Rice situation had never happened, Baltimore probably would've been stuck with the struggling tandem of he and Bernard Pierce. By Rice being out of the equation, though, that opened the door for Justin Forsett to finally have a chance to shine, and he's done so with nearly 1,400 yards of offense and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on the year. The past two weeks, though, he only has 26 carries for 67 yards (2.58 YPC) as he's been a bit bothered by an ankle injury.

WR
TE
-

Browns: Josh Gordon thought he could have a Pro Bowl season in the 6 games he played, but instead, he's averaging 60 yards per game and hasn't caught a single touchdown. Now, he's suspended by the team for the final contest for violating team rules. The player who made an impact last week via the long ball was Jordan Cameron, who could be playing his final game as a Brown. Andrew Hawkins had 7 catches for 87 yards the last time these two teams met, and Taylor Gabriel had a 70-yard reception that same week.

Ravens: Steve Smith only needs 25 receiving yards to reach 1,000 on the season. He had a big game against Cleveland in September, including beating Joe Haden on the final drive to set up Baltimore's game-winning field goal. If Haden plays, he will surely be seeking revenge. Torrey Smith's yardage numbers have been down, but he has a career high 10 touchdown receptions, most of them coming in the second half of the season. Owen Daniels is the team's other threat to catch the ball at tight end.

OL -

Browns: The Browns are back to Nick McDonald at the center position, and it's a reminder that the saddest part of the season is the fact that Alex Mack went down half-way through the year. If Mack were healthy the entire way, I think the Browns would not only have a playoff spot secured right now, but would be slightly in reach for a first-round bye heading into the final week. He was instrumental to the Browns' running game, and without that, everything "cool" that Kyle Shanahan did in terms of a gameplan for the passing game off of playaction went down the toilet.

Ravens: Right tackle Rick Wagner was placed on IR this week with a foot injury, and left tackle Eugene Monroe is doubtful with an ankle injury. We don't know exactly what lineup combination the Ravens will roll with, but any way you put it, there could be some matchup advantages for Cleveland's pass rushers to exploit, and the lack of continuity on the line could make it tougher for Baltimore to run the ball effectively.

DL -

Browns: Cleveland will be without Ahtyba Rubin and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen this week, but they get John Hughes back. Truth be told, the addition of Hughes is probably a boost compared to the combination of losing Rubin and Kitchen. Hughes' strength is at defending the run too.

Ravens: Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has done pretty well filling in for the suspended Haloti Ngata, especially against the run. Defensive end Chris Canty is banged up, but expected to play through injuries. This position isn't a strength for either team right now, hence the "even" ranking.

LB -

Browns: With the effectiveness that Scott Solomon showed in limited reps last week and Baltimore going with two new tackles, it might be wise of Jim O'Neil to give him a shot on pass rushing downs early in the game. Paul Kruger will no doubt look to get beyond his ten sacks from the other side. Cleveland is pretty much back at full strength at the linebacker position as Karlos Dansby didn't miss a snap last week.

Ravens: The linebacker position is the strength of the Ravens' defense right now, led by Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Daryl Smith, and Courtney Upshaw. Elvis Dumervil also sees significant reps on pass rushing downs. I was absolutely stunned when I saw that Dumervil had 17 sacks on the season! Holy cow. Dumervil and Suggs' pass rushing ability give Baltimore the clear advantage at linebacker.

DB -

Browns: The Browns got by with basically just using Buster Skrine and Pierre Desir only last week. Joe Haden and K'Waun Williams are expected to be game-time decisions on Sunday, but I'm expecting at least Haden to play. Jim Leonhard is supposed to be playing the final game of his NFL career, so I'm sure he'd like to go out with a bang.

Ravens: The secondary that Cleveland faced in Week 3 will be three quarters of the way different this week. In that game, the starters were Asa Jackson, Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, and Jimmy Smith. Now, the Ravens feature Lardarius Webb, Will Hill, Stewart, and Rashaan Melvin.

ST -

Browns: Garrett Hartley made both of his field goals last week despite a tragedy in his personal life. Johnson Bademosi issued a challenge to special teams return man Jacoby Jones on Twitter this week (probably a friendly challenge). Travis Benjamin has been better on punt returns as of late, but is still without a return touchdown on the season. Spencer Lanning will continue to handle punts and kickoffs.

Ravens: Justin Tucker remains one of the more reliable kickers in the NFL and also hits the ball well on kickoffs. Sam Koch is the best overall statistical punter in the NFL, so he can help Baltimore win the field position game even when Cleveland's defense comes up with a stop. Jacoby Jones is still one of the league's finest return men.



Prediction

Expect Connor Shaw to light up the world with a heavy passing attack this week as Kyle Shanahan goes away from the run due to the team's constant change at the center position. Cleveland's run defense will stop Baltimore's running game more effectively with Karlos Dansby and John Hughes each back, and Joe Flacco will not have enough time to throw with both of his offensive tackles out this week. Cleveland completes the sweep of defeating each division rival once in 2014.

Cleveland Browns 23, Baltimore Ravens 20


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