A very merry Christmas Eve to those of you who celebrate the holiday, and to those of you - like myself - who don't, well ... happy Friday.
The Ravens will hold a morning practice today and then head coach John Harbaugh will allow his players to head out and enjoy some time with their families.
Then, on Saturday, the team will make the trip out to Cleveland for their final regular season road game of the 2010 campaign. Baltimore will face a 5-9 Browns squad which they've defeated in the last five matchups between the teams.
Here's how the Ravens and Browns match up statistically going into Sunday's matchup:
Ravens: 336.4 (18th)
Browns: 295.0 (29th)
Ravens: 112.3 (16th)
Browns: 107.2 (18th)
Ravens: 224.1 (15th)
Browns: 187.8 (28th)
Ravens: 316.2 (10th)
Browns: 351.8 (22nd)
Ravens: 93.6 (5th)
Browns: 129.2 (25th)
Ravens: 222.6 (t-15th)
Browns: 222.6 (t-15th)
Ravens: +1 (13th)
Browns: +5 (t-7th)
OK, so the Browns have struggled again this season and they're going to miss the playoffs for the eighth straight year. But don't take that to mean that they'll just go through the paces on Sunday. Cleveland has some good young talent, has beaten a couple very good teams this season, and will be looking to play spoiler against their division rivals. Eric Mangini's group won't be pushovers this weekend.
Believe it or not - and I'm not even sure if I believe it - there was a two-game midseason stretch in which the Browns beat the Saints and Patriots in back-to-back games. Making things even more bizarre is that Cleveland didn't eek out wins over those two powers, they outscored New Orleans and New England by a combined 33 points.
Yeah. The NFL is a crazy league, huh?
But, as always with the Browns, there's a negative side. They've now lost two games in a row to teams with a combined 7-21 record. Last Sunday's loss was to the Bengals, a team which had dropped its previous 10 contests.
The Browns have made some strides on the offensive side of the ball this year, and a vast majority of that is thanks to the breakout season that running back Peyton Hillis has put together. As we all remember, and as I'll discuss in detail a little later this morning, Hillis ran wild on the Ravens back in Week 3, and while Baltimore will be keying on him on Sunday, he certainly has the ability to bust through a few tackles and make a big play.
Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy has the reins to the offense for now, and the Texas product has been fairly impressive in his six starts, despite going just 2-4. He's completed two-thirds of his passes and has five touchdowns to just three interceptions on the year. The Browns have issues with their receiving options (their top wideout on the year is journeyman Chansi Stuckey) and a leaky offensive line which has allowed McCoy to get sacked 19 times.
Defensively, Cleveland is solid on the back-end, thanks to the play of two rookies - cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward. Haden, a Maryland native and first-round pick out of Florida, leads the team with five interceptions, while Ward is the Browns' leading tackler from his strong safety position.
Look for Baltimore to continue with the run-oriented attack that we saw last weekend against the Saints. Cleveland has only allowed five rushing touchdowns on the season, but has had trouble defending the run outside of the red zone, and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of its last five games.
Cleveland is certainly improved from the last couple seasons, and it put up a fight against the Ravens back in September, but I don't see the Browns being too much of a problem for Baltimore this time around. The Ravens should force McCoy into some bad decisions, they'll be geared up to stop Hillis this time around, and they should roll to a playoff-clinching win.
Put me down for a 24-12 Baltimore victory.
How do you see this one playing out? Anyone think the Browns will be able to pull off the upset and put a hold on the Ravens' playoff plans? Or will Baltimore take care of business and lock up a postseason berth?