Baltimore Ravens (12-2) at Cleveland Browns (6-8)
When these two division rivals met back in week 4, the Browns won somewhat easily by a final score of 40-25, resulting in both teams being 2-2 after 4 games. At the time, it looked like a sign of things to come, as the Browns were the pre-season favorite to win the division. However, while the Browns have fallen to 6-8 and out of the playoff race entirely, the Ravens haven’t lost since that first matchup against the Browns way back in week 4.
I would expect this matchup to be much more similar to how these teams have played in the past 10 games than how they played in week 4. While the Browns rank just 23rd in first down rate differential on the season at -2.31% and are the without talented defensive end duo of Myles Garrett (suspension) and Olivier Vernon (injury), the Ravens have completely reinvented their defense since the start of the season and are the most complete team in football. They have added cornerback Marcus Peters and middle linebacker Josh Bynes, have gotten breakout play from edge defender Tyus Bowser and safety Chuck Clark, and have gotten cornerback Jimmy Smith back from injury.
Peters was their most important addition and since adding him in week 7, the Ravens rank 2nd in first down rate allowed at 30.18%, after ranking 24th in first down rate differential through the first 6 games of the season at 37.95%. Lamar Jackson and this offense gets by far the most attention on this team, but they’ve been a dominant unit the whole season, ranking 5th in first down rate through the first 6 games of the season at 40.68% and 1st in the past 8 games at 43.30%. The defensive improvement is the reason why this team now looks unbeatable. Since week 7, the Ravens have a ridiculous +13.11% first down rate differential, which is best in the NFL by a wide margin (the second ranked team is at +5.32%).
With the Ravens playing as well as they are and the Browns treading water at best, I have this line calculated at Baltimore -11. The Browns have recognizable stars on both sides of the ball, but are a top heavy roster with poor depth, so they might still be a little overrated, even with the way their season has gone. Some think that their previous victory over the Ravens is proof that they are the Ravens’ Achilles heel, but these are not the same teams as the last time and history suggests the Ravens actually have a better chance of covering this spread because they lost the previous matchup. Divisional road favorites of 3+ are 39-27 ATS since 1989 in a same season, regular season rematch against a team that beat them previously as home favorites. There’s not enough here to for the Ravens to be worth betting, but I like them for pick ‘em purposes.
Baltimore Ravens 33 Cleveland Browns 20
Pick against the spread: Baltimore -10