Without a reliable quarterback and the friendly aid of incompetent replacement refs, the Cleveland Browns will find themselves outmatched in Baltimore. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Browns at Ravens
Coming of an electric, emotional victory against the New England Patriots on Sunday night to host the impotent Cleveland Browns on just three days rest will be Baltimore’s toughest challenge. The Ravens will likely come out flat, sputter around for a quarter or two and maybe even three. The crowd will grow restless and with each possession the Browns will gain a little more confidence believing they can actually win the game. Will Cleveland win? Doubtful, but can they keep it close?
This is the Browns Super Bowl. In 2009, the Browns shocked the Steelers in an ugly back-alley brawl on a Thursday night in November. Cleveland was 1-11 at the time. The Steelers were coming off a four game skid and EVERYONE picked the Steelers to roll. This isn’t the NBA where the favored team wins 95% of the time. There are so many more variables to success in football than basketball. In basketball, the worst team and the best team are separated by light years. In the NFL, the Browns are a few upgrades from competing for a playoff spot along with the Ravens.
Furthermore, Thursday night games are a total crapshoot. The players are only at about 70%. Losing those three extra days of rest between games is devastating to the level of play, too. While both teams must deal with the short week, a lower level of play favors the underdogs similar to how playing a game in the mud would.
But then there’s Brandon Weeden. A rookie quarterback often looks like a high school quarterback against the Ravens defense. I’d feel so much more confident in a close game if the Browns had more stability under center. Will the Weeden from Week 2 show up, or does the Weeden from Weeks 1 and 3 make an another appearance? I think Cleveland’s defense can keep the game interesting, but at some point the offense will need to score points. I’m not sure the Browns offense can.
What’s even worse for Cleveland is the loss of any heavy underdog’s greatest asset; the replacement refs. No more (ok, maybe I should say not as many) phantom pass interference calls, no more extended delays to slow momentum, no more leniency on the clutching and grabbing, and of course, no more blown game-deciding calls. Competent officials swing the advantage to the superior team.
Although I’ve wasted most of this post trying to convince you the Browns can compete, I’ve failed to convince myself. In Cleveland, maybe the Browns have a fighting chance, but not in Baltimore. RAVENS If I were Charles Barkley; Ravens -12