Today the Cleveland Browns have an important game against the Baltimore Ravens. This game looked like it would be an important one when the schedule came out. It looked like the Browns would come into this game 0-2 and a loss would make the Browns 0-3 heading into the bye week.
Here we are and the Browns are a game better at 1-1. That’s not a huge surprise, but that 1-1 is more significant than we could have ever imagined.
The Browns have raised a few eyebrows with their play the last six quarters. Nobody (sane) is picking them to go to the Super Bowl, but here’s a team that could be on the rise. And that’s what makes this game so important: It will determine, in the minds of fans and the team, the “could be”. If the Browns want to be taken seriously, then they need to win this game today.
Some might ask, “Who cares about what the fans think?” Well, I care because A) I am a fan, and B) my friends are huge fans and when the team is awful it upsets them. I feel bad for them. It’s a horrible feeling to wait for your favorite team to start their season, and it’s over before it ever begins.
What’s important about this game is the affect it has on a concept that I used to think was overinflated: The 12th Man. My argument used to be that games are won and lost on the field, not in the stands. “Of course they tell you that you’re important! They want you to buy tickets!
Yes, I can be quite cynical from time to time.
Now I find myself starting to buy into the idea. It did seem to be an advantage last year for the Seattle Seahawks. I watched a playoff games, and that place was insane. I couldn’t help but be impressed. Maybe it does matter.
It certainly seemed to matter last week against the New Orleans Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees appeared to have issues communicating, and he seemed a little rattled at the start of the game when the Browns were making plays and the fans were responding.
I expect the crowd to be rabid again as today’s game starts. How the team plays will affect how long that lasts.
A loss today to the Ravens would say to the fans, “Same old Browns.” Especially an ugly loss. And that’s what makes this game so important. Yes, it’s the NFL and every game matters. Yes, it’s a division opponent.
But this is also a confidence game, a chance to have the fans and the players believe.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that this game is going to determine the Browns season. A loss doesn’t mean a losing season and a win doesn’t mean a winning season. I know someone in the media will mention it, but I don’t care what the odds are of making the playoffs for a team starts the season 1-2. I’m not even thinking “playoffs”.
I am saying that this game could go a long way in helping the Browns restore both the team’s confidence and home-field advantage.
I’ll be honest; I expect the Browns to win this game. Take that with a grain of salt. I also expected them to get blown out in the first two games. Predicting games is not my strong suit. (Though I will take credit with predicting the plays the Saints would use on offense to start the game last week. You can all high-five me later.)
Here’s how I see this game going: The Ravens are going to be tough. They always are. They will play punishing defense and they will try to shove the ball down the Browns’ throats. Though the big money is with quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens seem to be focusing on running the ball. Last week, in their win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens rushed for 157 yards. Flacco barely surpassed that, throwing for 166. The Ravens had the ball 10 more minutes than did the Steelers.
This is what the people who love old, worn-out clichés would call “smash-mouth football”. It’s nothing the Browns haven’t been assaulted with by the Ravens in the past. The difference is this: The Browns, who have spent years being pushed around by the Ravens, look they can push back.
Hoyer is going to come out throwing, maybe using the two-minute offense. I think they’ll try pushing the Baltimore defense back a little to open up the running game. They should. Get something going on offense and hit them a couple of times on defense, and the crowd will lose its mind. A quick start would really go a long way.
My prediction: Browns win this one 20-13, though the game will be closer than that. The defense has to show up for one game, right????
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I’ll be back right after the game with a quick reaction. I do this each and every game. Next week during the bye, I will have an article on the passionate Browns fan and a look back at the season so far in my weekly Rear View Mirror column which comes out every Tuesday.
As always, thanks for the love and go Browns.