As we look ahead to the first game of the week, the question to ask is the same every week – what’s the outlook for Thursday? This week it’s the Cleveland Browns on the road to M&T Bank Stadium to face the Baltimore Ravens in our first game this year with REAL REFEREES. Here’s the tale of the tape:
Cleveland Browns 0-3
Injuries: The biggest injury concern for Cleveland is the hamstring problems of WR Mohammed Massaquoi who will not play in today’s game. This is a big blow given that MoMass has been rookie QB Brandon Weeden’s favorite target so far. There are further injury concerns on the offense as depth TE Alex Smith is also out for this game due to a concussion which will mean the team will have to rely more heavily on rookie Jordan Cameron. The last confirmed player to be out this week is rookie depth LB James-Michael Johnson with a rib injury. This is also a big concern as the team is lacking depth at the position having lost Chris Gocong and Emmanuel Acho earlier this season.
Among the less severe injury concerns, star rookie RB Trent Richardson (knee), LG Jason Pinkston (Ankle), DE Frostee Rucker (wrist) and LS Christian Yount (shoulder) all were in full practice every day this week and are all listed as probable. There is greater concern around veteran DB Sheldon Brown (Chest) and WR/RB/PR/KR Josh Cribbs (knee) who were limited in practice all week but are also listed as probable and thus expected to play. The only other real question mark is backup safety Ray Ventrone who was limited all week with a hand injury and is listed as questionable so he could be a late scratch.
Three Keys To Victory: Brandon Weeden is a key player for the Browns in this game. If Cleveland is going to stand any chance of winning, Weeden has to be able to play well in much the same way he did against the Eagles. Part of this will of course be the play of his offensive line but looking back at the tape even at those times Weeden has had receivers wide open and failed to see them. It’s a tall order for a rookie – but so is beating the Ravens.
The second key is as obvious as the first – Trent Richardson will need to have a big day. We have seen that the rookie RB is well capable of performing at a high level even against an NFL defense and he’ll have few bigger challenges than the ferocious Baltimore D. The clash of veteran LB Ray Lewis vs the young and talented Richardson should be one of the better matchups of the night.
The third and perhaps most important key however is on the defense and it’s the pass rush. In the first three weeks of the season the Ravens have unleashed a pretty good no-huddle offense. However, we have seen that if a team can put pressure on the quarterback that this style of offense has trouble getting going. Perhaps the most talented defensive lineman on this team is DE Jabaal Sheard who has had a very quiet start to this season – he will need to make his presence felt in this game.
Fantasy: The Ravens D may be notorious for their tenacity but we have seen talented runners cut them to shreds before. I have no problems starting Trent Richardson this week. Other than that, there is little to recommend for fantasy here. Greg Little is the name most of you know but he hasn’t lived up to that billing so far this year. For deeper leagues, TE Jordan Cameron is a name to consider in 2TE and dynasty formats – he’s talented and with Alex Smith out and Benjamin Watson failing to impress, Cameron may get his opportunity to shine in this game.
Baltimore Ravens 2-1
Injuries: Very little to talk about for the Ravens here. Starting corner Lardarius Webb has a niggling knee injury and was limited in practice but is expected to play. Also almost certain to play is LB Brendon Ayanbadejo who also was limited with his knee injury but should come off the bench. The final injury listed is backup offensive lineman Jah Reid who is coming off an ankle injury from preseason. He is questionable and the only player who may/may not play on the whole Ravens active squad.
Three Keys To Victory: First and foremost the defensive front 7 has to dominate the Browns o-line. It has been apparent early on that Cleveland has some serious issues on their offensive line and if the defense can win that battle right from the start then what little offense the Browns have will likely be killed off quickly leaving the Ravens free to play their own game.
Given that the Browns defense does have some sneaky good players, tiring them out with a strong running game should be a high priority in this game – old fashioned AFC North ground and pound. This means that they have to feed the rock to Ray Rice and open holes for him. The Ravens offensive line has had it’s issues with run-blocking at times so if they can get the run game going they can bleed the clock – always sopmething that even the dominating teams need to do.
The final key is in a way related to the Browns keys – Ray Lewis. Cleveland has Trent Richardson who has huge talent and Ray Lewis needs to be on his game if Richardson starts to make strides early because Richardson looks like one of these guys who can explode on any given day given his upside and ability. As such, if Ray Lewis can be at his best then Cleveland will have little to fight back with.
Fantasy: Ray Rice is a stud but this week he’s one of the best plays in all of fantasy. I will say this though – we saw his backup Bernard Pierce look good in the few snaps he got and, if Baltimore can get a healthy lead early, Pierce might be worth a start in deeper leagues as he could rack up some garbage time points.
In the passing game, I like Flacco as a starter this week as the Browns are a fairly weak match-up with CB Joe Haden suspended and due to this I also think there’s upside in both Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin although picking which one has the bigger day is a difficult task. Jacoby Jones is interesting in deeper leagues although hardy reliable – he’s more there to give fantasy owners pause about Boldin and Smith. Last of all, Dennis Pitta has been outstanding to begin this season and is a definite starter in all leagues this week. I would advise caution though – Ed Dickson is always gonna be there and one of these weeks he’s gonna bust out.
Betting Odds: Most site have Baltimore as a 12.5 point favorite and it is hard to go against this considering the lack of offense the Browns have. Given that the game is in Baltimore, I will give the points and take the home team.
Final Score: I always feel uneasy about predicting a blow-out but since I just gave away 12.5 points then it’s obvious I have the Ravens winning by plenty. My prediction – 36-13 with Trent Richardson scoring the solitary touchdown for Cleveland.
What’ll be the Outlook for Thursday? Your guess as good as mine!