In 2019, when the Ravens won 12 straight games and entered the playoffs as Super Bowl favorites, they led the NFL in point difference.
In 2020, when the Ravens scored an 11-win season and five straight wins to secure a postseason berth, they led the NFL in the points differential.
This year has been a little different. Entering Week 12, the 7-3 Ravens are only behind the 8-3 Tennessee Titans in AFC, but their points gap is just plus-17, tied for seventh-best in the conference. Their 16-13 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday was their fifth comeback in the fourth quarter this season.
“To see the effort and sacrifices this team has put in over the past 10 weeks, has been inspiring,” said defensive end Calais Campbell. “It’s something that we can certainly use as momentum to move forward.”
They’ll take whatever they can get at this point. Starting Sunday night against the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens will end the regular season with seven games against teams that currently hold the winning record.
Here’s how those games stack up, ranked from easiest to hardest. The unit-by-unit rankings are determined by football outsiders.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 18 in Baltimore)
Ranking: No. 21 Offense, No. 25 Defense, No. 15 Special Team
Why they are unsafe: This is not your father’s defense of the Steelers. Pittsburgh (5-4-1) has allowed at least 19 points in seven of their last nine games. Two exceptions: Winless, a 16–16 tie with the Detroit Lions, played in cold and rainy conditions, and a 15–10 win over the Cleveland Browns and quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Injury and illness have also been a problem. Defensive linemen Stephen Tuit (knee) and Tyson Alulu (ankle) are on injured reserve and are not expected to return anytime soon. Safety Minka Fitzpatrick missed the reserve/COVID-19 list for the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. Outside linebacker TJ Watt has been battling hip and knee injuries. and cornerback Joe Haden is returning from a leg sprain.
Why aren’t they: When have the Steelers ever given their way to Lamar Jackson? Over four starts against Pittsburgh, he completed just 57.9% of his passes, threw three touchdowns and five interceptions, and averaged only 4.2 yards per carry.
Watts should wreak havoc on the sidelines, especially if the Ravens can’t set up their run game. The Steelers’ defensive front won’t make it that easy. According to Pro Football Focus, Cameron Hayward is the NFL’s highest-rated run defender among inside linemen, and former Raven Chris Wormley is in seventh place.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 13 in Pittsburgh)
Why they are unsafe: It’s not even your father’s Steelers crime. According to Sharp Football Stats, Pittsburgh is ranked 21st in explosive-run rate, 26th in explosive-pass rate, and 28th in explosive-play rate. JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season-ending shoulder injury has limited Pittsburgh’s receiving core, and so has its quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger averages 6.9 air yards per pass attempt, the lowest point of his career and one of the lowest in the NFL.
Naji is second on the team in running rookie catches (49 for 337 yards and two touchdowns), behind Harris, but he averages 3.6 yards per carry. The Steelers’ overhauled offensive line has struggled to open holes, and injuries from starting guards Trae Turner and Kevin Dotson won’t be helped.
Why aren’t they: Coach Mike Tomlin has never finished a season with a losing record in Pittsburgh. If the Steelers get there again, it will be because they defended Heinz Field. The Ravens have done well at Pittsburgh in recent years, however, winning two of their last three games and almost upset despite a roster devastated by the coronavirus last year.
5. Cleveland Browns (Week 12 in Baltimore)
Ranking: No. 12 Offense, No. 24 Defense, No. 16 Special Team
Why they are unsafe: The Ravens have knocked the starting quarterback out of the game in two straight games. It’s not good news for either the Browns (6-5) or Mayfield, who is reportedly dealing with a bruised heel, bruised knee and torn labrum in his left shoulder.
In the last two games, a big loss to the New England Patriots and a narrow win over the Lions on Sunday, Mayfield went a combined 26-for-50 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Tight ends David Nojoku and Austin Hopper may be their best options on pass plays, and the Ravens have done a solid job barring tight ends this year, ranking 16th in defensive efficiency according to Football Outsiders.
Why aren’t they: Miles Garrett ranks first in the NFL in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate. Fellow defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is in second place. Ravens ranks third in football outsiders’ adjusted sack rate.
Should we say more?
4. Cincinnati Bengals (Week 16 in Cincinnati)
Ranking: No. 23 Offense, No. 15 Defense, No. 9 Special Team
Why they are unsafe: This offense from the Bengals is not as good as the Ravens saw them in Week 7. Eliminate the 41-17 romp, in which Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow covered a career-high 416 yards and combined trailing runs for Joe Mixon and Samje Perrin. 111 rushing yards, and Bengals yards per play would drop from 5.8 (10th in the NFL) to 5.4 (20th).
Cincinnati’s last two outings haven’t inspired much confidence in the second-half’s change on offense. In Week 9, before the Bengals’ bye, Burrow threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, in a 41–16 loss at the hands of the Browns. On Sunday, Burrow averaged just 5.1 yards per attempt and finished with 148 on aggregate in a 32-13 road win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase hasn’t scored 49 yards in a game since his 201-yard outburst in Baltimore.
Why aren’t they: According to Football Outsiders, Cincinnati (6-4) has the best run defense of any opponent remaining on the Ravens’ schedule. The Bengals made the Ravens’ offense one-dimensional in their first matchup, leaving Devonta Freeman, Ty’son Williams and Le’Von Bell behind in 11 carries for 29 yards. The Ravens finished with 115 rushing yards as Jackson ran 12 times (six of them on scramble) for 88 yards.
Those early-down struggles allowed the crowd near Cincinnati to get after the Ravens, most notably on the right after Patrick McCreery pulled out from an ankle injury. Bengals defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson combined for 3½ sacks, and Jackson finished 15-for-31 – his only game under 50% accuracy this season – for 257 yards and a touchdown. .
3. Cleveland Browns (Week 14 in Cleveland)
Why they are unsafe: Brown’s pass may belong to the Rush elite, but his run defense is in shambles. The Patriots ran 184 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry in Week 10. A week later, the Lions — the same Lions who came into the matchup with one of the NFL’s least impressive rushing offenses — conceded 168 yards and 7.3 yards per carry.
There may be some help along the way: coach Kevin Stefanski said on Monday he is confident inside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoa (ankle), one of the league’s top rookies, will be able to play on Sunday. But after what the Ravens did in their last meeting in Cleveland, rushing 32 times for 231 yards and five touchdowns, there’s only room for improvement.
Why aren’t they: Owusu-Koramoah isn’t the only Brown standout ready to return. Right tackle Jack Conklin (elbow) and running back Karim Hunt (calf) are both expected to come out of injured reserve and return to practice this week. Conklin was an All-Pro selection last season, and Hunt averaged a career-high 5.2 yards per carry in his first six games this year, plus 8.1 yards per catch.
The Ravens have one of the NFL’s strong run defenses, ranking sixth in the football outsiders’ efficiency metrics, but their depth and handling abilities can be troublesome. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams has not played since Week 7 due to a shoulder injury, and defensive end Derek Wolff (back/hip) is out for the season. In the inside linebacker, there’s probably no greater test for Josh Bynes’ range and Patrick Queen’s strength than the star running behind Nick Chubb.
2. Green Bay Packers (Week 15 in Baltimore)
Ranking: No. 5 Offense, No. 14 Defense, No. 29 Special Team
Why they are unsafe: Like the Ravens, the Green Bay has an impressive record (8-3), but not an impressive resume. According to Football Outsiders, the Packers are the NFL’s number 13 team, two places behind the 5–5 Minnesota Vikings and two places ahead of the Ravens. Their top player, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has already lost time this season due to a coronavirus infection and is now battling an injury that he says is “a little worse than the turf toe.”
There’s also the concern with the melee line. Standout offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins tore his ACL on Sunday. All-Pro David Bakhtiari, who was replaced with a left tackle, reportedly recently had arthroscopic surgery last year to clear his knee and has not returned to practice. Defensively, the Packers also rank in the bottom half of the NFL in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate (26th) and run-stop win rate (20th).
Why aren’t they: For all the highlights and struggles of Rodgers’ season — the team’s COVID-19 outbreak, his leadership shortcomings, his struggle to throw deep — he’s still fourth in the NFL in the QBR, according to ESPN. A year after being named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, Rodgers completed 66.8% of his passes for 7.8 yards per attempt and threw 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Wide receiver Davante Adams, always a nightmare to cover, averages a career-high 13.6 yards per catch.
Even though an injury to Rodgers’ toe would limit his air attack, reinforcements could boost an average Packers defense by week 15. Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur said earlier this month that the team expects linebacker Z’Darius Smith (back) and all-out former Ravens-pro cornerback Jair Alexander (shoulders) to return at some point this season.
1. Los Angeles Rams (Week 17 in Baltimore)
Ranking: No. 2 Offense, No. 8 Defense, No. 26 Special Team
Why they are unsafe: The Rams (7-3) may have figured things out by early January, but for now, they’re in a rough patch. Matthew Stafford, who leads the NFL in the QBR, followed up with his worst game of the season in Week 9 and an even worse run in Week 10. In double-digit losses to the Titans and San Francisco 49ers, he averaged about 6 yards per pass. Try and finish with more interceptions than touchdowns.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s midseason joint made headlines, but Robert Woods’ damage to a torn ACL will probably prove more significant. He’s not only been a more productive receiver in recent years, but has also been versatile enough to unlock parts of the Rams’ creative running game. Stafford and star wide receiver Cooper Kupp will need help from the rest of the offense which lack standout skill position players.
Why aren’t they: Maybe no one gives the opposing Ravens more headaches than an in-sync Rams team. If an above-average quarterback could have career days against this passing defense, what could Stafford, Kupp, and coach Sean McVay cook up to?
On the other side of the ball, it’s not the same Ravens offense that ran for 285 yards and passed for five touchdowns at the 2019 romp in Los Angeles. Nor is it the same Ram Raksha. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is one of the most influential players in the NFL. Leonard Floyd and new addition Von Miller are a scary edge couple. And cornerback Jalen Ramsey can be counted on to mark almost any receiver out of a game.
Browns @ Ravens
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
TV: Ch. 11, 4 radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens 3