After a much-needed bye week, this next month of games are seriously important for the Baltimore Ravens, especially after the devastating loss to Houston two weeks prior.
While still standing at No. 1 in the AFC North, the Ravens must rally in the coming weeks to maintain their hopes at postseason glory.
Luckily, none of their next four opponents have winning records, but their performance both offensively and defensively must improve.
Especially when faced with the stresses of practicing through Hurricane Sandy, a fine regarding the injury of Ed Reed, and not to mention the injuries of key players Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, resulting in losing them on the field.
Heading to Cleveland, here are three bold predictions regarding this Week 9 matchup:• Baltimore will correct the holes in both the offense and defense, an emphasis during their bye week.
The Ravens should have used this much-needed bye to work on what is needed to win big on the road, a fact that is crucial for Baltimore at this point in the season. With Cleveland's 2-6 record, expect a fight but not necessarily a war in Sunday's game.
Unfortunately, there may be holes that the Ravens never accounted for, since they were issued a $20,000 fine by the NFL for not including safety Ed Reed's torn labrum. Before this issue, coach John Harbaugh kept the injury report rather tight, listing only the players that had missed games or practice time.
Expect that fact to change from here on out; Ravens fans, as well as fans of any NFL team, should predict to know ANY player suffering from ANY injury, significant or not.
• Linebacker Terrell Suggs will make a real comeback this week for Baltimore, back on the field less than six months after having Achilles surgery. His presence wasn't felt in a huge way in Week 7, but after the bye week and the loss to Houston, expect a big impact from this important player against the Browns.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, Suggs is a threat that the Browns are probably not adequately prepared to face, even with two wins in their past three games.
This year's Browns team is one of the NFL's youngest squads, and though they are starting to show signs of maturity, facing the seasoned Ravens is a scary predicament for Cleveland, a big part of this predicament being players like Terrell Suggs. Suggs actually drove from North Carolina after his flights were cancelled, so expect a fiery performance, despite troubles resulting from the hurricane.
• The Ravens will pull ahead early and be able to pull out a road victory against Cleveland, but will still have to work for it. The Ravens have won the last nine meetings against the Browns, but these AFC North teams have met with some drama. Their last matchup was September 27, where the Ravens held out for a 23-16 win over Cleveland.
The Browns are indeed improving little by little, but this young team is just looking to stay alive, while Baltimore is among the teams with eyes set on championship hopes. And even with the advantage of playing on home turf, the Browns are facing a Ravens team with far too much to lose.
They will surely play tough, but just not tough enough to roll over the Ravens in a victory. But the Browns should not be taken lightly in the next few weeks, they may rise higher in the AFC North, depending on their opponents' performances.
Heading into a crucial point in the season, the Ravens should expect to do whatever it takes to stay at the top of the AFC North, while the Browns should continue to work on improving and shaping their young team.
Both teams should expect a tough game on Sunday, as well as a tough season continuing on from this week. With postseason just around the corner and plenty of work to be done, all of the NFL is on what we call "crunch time", and fans, as always, can prepare to enjoy the show.