AFC North Battle
With Hurricane Ike postponing their first road game of the season, the Baltimore Ravens got an unexpected early bye week after their season-opening win.
The Cleveland Browns look like they could use a week off to regroup.
The Ravens will look for their second division victory while trying to put the Browns in an early 0-3 hole when the AFC North rivals square off Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Ravens –1 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 50% of bets for this game have been placed on Browns +1 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Baltimore (1-0) lost nine of its final 10 games last season and was breaking in a rookie quarterback to start 2008. Joe Flacco, though, had a respectable NFL debut as he went 15-for-29 for 129 yards with no interceptions while running for a 38-yard touchdown, and the Ravens defense led the way to a 17-10 win over Cincinnati on Sept. 7.
Injuries played a major factor in Baltimore's 5-11 finish last season, with defensive standouts Samari Rolle, Chris McAllister and Ray Lewis all missing time and All-Pro safety Ed Reed playing injured for much of the season. All four were on the field against the Bengals, helping hold Cincinnati to 154 yards of offense and no touchdowns.
"It was a team game," first-year coach John Harbaugh told the Ravens' official Web site. "Through some adversity in the game, through some tough times (and) having each other's backs (we persevered). Defense supporting and picking up the offense, offense supporting and picking up the defense, and special teams kind of undergirding the whole thing."
Baltimore dealt with some unplanned adversity last week. The Ravens were set to play at Houston last Sunday, but with Hurricane Ike bearing down on the city, the game was moved to Monday night before eventually being rescheduled for Nov. 9 - Baltimore's original bye week.
That means starting with this game, the Ravens will play 15 straight weeks without rest.
"I don't think it changes anything right now, but when those weeks come up we'll come up with a plan to account for the fact that we don't have a bye week," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be a challenge. It's the one that's been presented to us."
The Browns (0-2), who figured their 10-win season in 2007 was the prelude to a playoff appearance in 2008, have a different challenge. Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 234 teams have started a season with two losses, and only 27 have gone on to the playoffs.
Since 1990, three teams made the playoffs after starting 0-3, none since Buffalo in 1998.
"It's no hole," Browns defensive tackle Shaun Smith. "The Giants started out 0-2 and won the Super Bowl. We're that caliber-type of team."
Cleveland was the only team scheduled to open its season with two home games - the Ravens will now do the same following their postponement - but failed to take advantage. The Browns were held to 205 yards of offense on Sept. 7 in a 28-10 loss to Dallas, then produced 208 total yards Sunday night in a sloppy 10-6 loss to Pittsburgh.
Derek Anderson threw two interceptions, one of which came at the end of the first half following some questionable clock management by coach Romeo Crennel, who let time tick off before calling the team's last timeout with eight seconds remaining.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," said Crennel, who also was criticized for settling for a field goal late in the game with the Browns trailing 10-3.
"We screwed it up. The story of the game was turnovers and penalties and they took advantage."
The other bad news was another injury to its banged-up defense, losing lineman Robaire Smith for the season to a torn Achilles'.
The bigger concern for the Browns, though, is their struggling offense. Cleveland had four offensive Pro Bowlers a year ago, including Anderson, but he's looked nothing like the quarterback who threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdown passes last season.
Part of the problem is receiver Braylon Edwards, who has unofficially dropped five passes, equaling his number of receptions in the first two weeks. Edwards had 16 touchdowns in 2007, but hasn't caught one this season.
Running back Jamal Lewis, a former Raven, is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. Lewis finished last season with four 100-yard efforts in his final six games, but he'll find that tough to do against Baltimore. The Ravens have gone an NFL-best 20 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
The Browns won both meetings last season - including a 33-30 overtime thriller in Baltimore - and Lewis ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries in the two games.
Cleveland is 3-6 overall in Baltimore since the original Browns' franchise relocated there in 1996.
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