CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-1) AT BALTIMORE RAVENS (1-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, M&T Bank Stadium. TV: CBS, Andrew Catalon, James Lofton, Steve Tasker.
SERIES HISTORY: 37th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 27-9. It was bad enough for the Browns before the Ravens drafted quarterback Joe Flacco in 2008, but it has been even tougher on them since then. The Browns have faced Flacco 17 times and beaten him only twice.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Ravens blueprint for success in Week 1: Run the ball effectively and play lockdown, mistake-free defense. Baltimore was completely dominant in a 20-0 win over Cincinnati. The Ravens had four interceptions against Bengals veteran quarterback Andy Dalton, so they will try to rattle Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer early and often.
The Ravens’ offense suffered a big setback when running back Danny Woodhead was ruled out at least four weeks with a hamstring injury. Baltimore has two running backs on its practice squad — Alex Collins and Jeremy Langford — who could be promoted to the active roster for depth, but the first option could be Buck Allen, who has shown promise catching the ball and making defenders miss tackles.
The Browns put some pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but sacked him only once. Their chances of beating the Ravens increase if the pass rush can finish the job against Flacco. That could mean getting creative with inside blitzes. Middle linebacker Joe Schobert proved in preseason he has the quickness to blitz successfully.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
— Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Browns OT Joe Thomas. Suggs is a six-time Pro Bowler and Thomas has earned 10 trips to the Pro Bowl. These two veterans already had epic battles in the trenches. They are also regarded among the best all-time players at their positions. Suggs, 34, had six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble last week against the Bengals. However, he will face a bigger challenge against Thomas, who is tasked with helping keep young quarterback DeShone Kizer upright. These combatants know each other’s tendencies, so this should be high-level NFL entertainment. .
–Ravens WR Jeremy Maclin vs. Browns CB Jamar Taylor. Steelers receiver Antonio Brown caught 11 passes last week for 182 yards, many with Taylor defending him. Maclin caught a 48-yard touchdown pass against the Bengals in the opener. The Ravens are likely to test Taylor until he proves he can cover Maclin successfully.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Ravens RB Buck Allen. With Danny Woodhead out with a hamstring injury, Allen will play a bigger role in the offense. He already got a lot of work in the opener against the Bengals, carrying the ball 21 times for 71 yards. After being benched last year, Allen worked hard in the offseason and the results have shown since the beginning of training camp. He could have a big game this week against the Browns, especially with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
FAST FACTS: Browns rookie QB DeShone Kizer completed 20 of 30 for 222 yards, one TD and one interception, adding a rushing TD, in his debut. … Browns RB Isaiah Crowell has 201 scrimmage yards (156 rushing yards) and a rushing TD in his past two games vs. Baltimore. He has 100-yard rushing performances in two of his past three division games. … Browns LB Jamie Collins had a sack in last meeting. He is one of two players in the NFL with at least 10 sacks (12.5) and five INTs (5) since 2014. . . The Ravens are coming off their first shutout win since Nov. 16, 2009, at Cleveland. … Baltimore QB Joe Flacco has 1,120 yards passing (280 per game) with eight TDs and four INTs in his past four games vs. Cleveland. … S Tony Jefferson made nine tackles, including a sack, in his debut with the Ravens.
PREDICTION: Flacco missed the entire preseason with a back injury and did not take many chances in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, especially with an early lead. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Flacco is fully able to throw the ball downfield if needed, so watch for Baltimore to open it up, if necessary. And it may become necessary because Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams put together a quick, hard-hitting defense that held Pittsburgh to just 35 yards on the ground.
OUR PICK: Ravens, 31-21.