Ravens-Browns: The three keys

In the spirit of the holidays, the Ravens could give their fans an extra present today with a win over the Browns.

And who doesn’t like bonus presents?

A Baltimore victory this afternoon would clinch a playoff spot for John Harbaugh’s crew, and would keep their hopes of an AFC North title alive going into the final week of the regular season.

Here are three keys to the Ravens picking up their third straight win and locking up that postseason birth:

Keep Rice rollin’

The Ravens finally found their power ground attack last week in a win over the Saints, with Ray Rice ripping off 153 rushing yards on 31 carries. Rice, who got 38 total touches, was the focal point of the offense throughout the game, and he ran behind a suddenly imposing offensive line. The Pro Bowl running back not only churned out tough yardage, but also broke out on a couple big plays, which have been lacking in the Ravens’ run game this year. The Ravens would be wise to carry that ground-oriented attack into this game against Cleveland, who have the league’s 25th-ranked rush defense and allow nearly 130 yards on the ground per game.

Don’t let the “blind cat” find another meal

When the Ravens and Browns met back in Week 3, Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis had a career day, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown on a Baltimore defense which had allowed only three 100-yard rushers in their previous 53 games. Ray Lewis promised that wouldn’t happen again this week, saying that “a blind cat will find a meal every once in a while” and suggesting that his son could have gashed the Ravens’ defense that day given how poorly that unit played.

Hillis has had an exceptional season and is tough to bring down in the open field, but the Ravens will be keying on him this time. It’d be surprising to see the bruising back have another big day tomorrow.

Take good care of the pigskin

The Browns come into this one having lost two straight games to last-place teams, they’re starting a rookie quarterback, and the players are probably starting to plan their offseason golf trips. Cleveland has nothing to play for but pride and a desire to spoil things for a division rival. The Ravens, on the other hand, have everything to play for, and are clearly the more talented and driven team. All things being equal, they shouldn’t have much trouble with the Browns, but turnovers can always change that.

Cleveland excels at taking the ball away - they’ve grabbed 18 interceptions on the year (fifth best in the NFL), and have recovered nine fumbles - and if the Ravens turn it over a couple times, the Browns could have a shot at another big-time upset over a playoff team.

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