The Baltimore Ravens (9-6), needing a victory and some help from the Kansas City Chiefs to earn an AFC wild card berth, host the Cleveland Browns (7-8) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium in the final game of the 2014 NFL season.
While the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers battle for the AFC North crown, the Ravens can only go to the playoffs with a win over the struggling Browns, and with a San Diego Chargers loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Las Vegas odds makers currently have the Ravens favored by nine points, and the Chiefs, who still have a chance to make the playoffs, favored by 2.5 points.
The Ravens’ two home losses have come back to haunt them. They were edged by the Bengals in the season opener, and by the Chargers on Nov. 30. In both losses, the Ravens led with less than six minutes remaining.
Fortunately for John Harbaugh’s squad, the Browns are playing their worst football of the season and now will turn to their third quarterback of the season. After a surprising 6-3 record, the Browns have lost four straight games, and five of their last six. Having been officially eliminated from playoff contention in Week 16, Cleveland has nothing to play for.
Injuries to quarterbacks Brian Hoyer (shoulder, bicep) and Johnny Manziel (hamstring) could force Cleveland to turn to either undrafted rookie Connor Shaw or recently signed free agent Tyler Thigpen. The Browns have averaged just 11.7 points in their past four games. The over/under is 42.5 points.
The Ravens came from behind against the Browns at First Energy Stadium on Sept. 21, earning a two-point victory on Justin Tucker’s last-second field goal, 23-21. It was one of the tightest games for either team in 2014, with five lead changes before Tucker’s game-winning field goal. The Ravens finished with 377 total yards, compared to the Browns’ 375.
Baltimore may turn to the running game against the league’s worst rush defense, though the Ravens have struggled to put together a strong ground attack in recent games. Leading rusher Justin Forsett has seen a sharp dip in production, rushing for a total of just 138 yards and one touchdown in the past three games, after rushing for a total of 400 yards and four touchdowns in the three previous games.
"I'm fine. I'm ready to go," Forsett said on Sunday, after suffering an ankle injury against the Houston Texans. "The defense did a great job, stopping us and stopping the run. Sometimes it's like that. We have to find a way to execute and win games.”
Joe Flacco will look to rebound from perhaps his worst game of the season, but will do it against a Cleveland defense that is No.7 against the pass (220.1 yards per game). Against the Texans, Flacco completed just 21 of his 50 pass attempts, and threw three interceptions. However, the 29-year-old is having one of the best seasons of his career. Flacco has thrown 25 touchdown passes, tying his career high from 2010. He has also completed 62 percent of his passes, which is his highest percentage since 2010.
Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe (foot) and defensive end Chris Canty (ankle) didn’t practice on Tuesday, while right tackle Rick Wagner was placed on injured reserve.
The Browns have a 3-4 road record, while the Ravens are 5-2 at home. The last time the Browns won in Baltimore was 2007.
Prediction: Baltimore over Cleveland, 30-10
An IBTimes staff reporter contributed to this report.