The Ravens have won 13 of their last 14 against the Browns, including seven straight at home. Which means the Ravens will beat Cleveland again Sunday (1 p.m.) at M&T Bank Stadium, right?
Probably, but here are five reasons why the Ravens (1-3) can’t take the Browns (1-3) lightly:
1. Browns quarterback Josh McCown has beaten the Ravens before.
Two years ago with the Bears, McCown was the starting quarterback when they beat the Ravens, 23-20, in overtime. McCown has thrown for at least 341 yards in his last two games, with four touchdowns and one interception. He’s playing with confidence. If the Ravens’ secondary leaves receivers open, McCown will find them.
2. Close games are what the Ravens do.
All four Ravens games have been decided by six points or less. If you’re a Ravens’ fan, you’ve probably forgotten what it feels like to start the fourth quarter with a two touchdown lead. Win or lose, the Ravens usually make you sweat, regardless of who they play.
3. This will likely be Joe Flacco’s first game in two years without wide receiver Steve Smith.
With Smith (back) listed as doubtful, tight end Crockett Gillmore (calf) out, and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (back) done for the year, Flacco is short some of his favorite weapons. That means Flacco could face a day of throwing to tightly-covered receivers, meaning the offense could struggle.
4. The Browns have a big-play receiver.
Travis Benjamin is averaging 20.5 yards per catch. He has four touchdown catches already, tied for second in the NFL behind Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals (five). Benjamin may not be a household name, but he’s very fast. Speedy receivers like A. J. Green and Amari Cooper have burned the Ravens’ secondary already this season.
5. Flacco has thrown at least one interception every game.
Having thrown five interceptions this season, Flacco must avoid throwing into coverage, and resist the temptation to force risky throws if receivers are covered. Turnovers can be the great equalizer. It could spell trouble for the Ravens if they gift-wrap scoring opportunities.
Yes, this is a game the Ravens are expected to win. But as we have seen already this season, no wins are guaranteed.