John Harbaugh proclaimed the Browns as the AFC North's most talented team during the 2019 offseason. Several months later, Harbaugh's Ravens ran away with the division, winning 13 games before suffering an ugly home playoff loss to the underdog Titans. While they posted an impressive 5-1 record against divisional foes, the Ravens did stub their toe against the Browns in Week 4, as Nick Chubb's 165 yards and three scores propelling the visiting Browns to a 40-25 win. Chubb's success exposed the Ravens' formidable run defense, a weakness that ultimately was their undoing in the playoffs. Cleveland will look to have similar success on Sunday against a Baltimore defense that made several changes following last season's bitter ending.
Before we get into the details of Sunday's rivalry, let's break down how you can follow the action:
How to watch
Sunday's game will be the classic battle of the unstoppable force against the immovable object. While the Browns' rushing attack — led by Chubb and former Pro Bowler Kareem Hunt — should be one of the NFL's most productive units, they will be up against a Ravens' defense that now includes former Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell, fellow veteran lineman Derek Wolfe, and rookie linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. Baltimore also spent two draft picks on promising young defensive linemen in Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington. Earlier this week, Campbell told reporters the Ravens brought in him, Wolfe and Queen specifically to stop the outside-zone run scheme -- a run scheme the Browns have adopted for the 2020 season.
Harbaugh, who is entering his 13th season as the Ravens' coach, expects new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski to lean on his run game early and often. Stefanski, who served as the Vikings' offensive coordinator in 2019, presided over a Minnesota offense that finished sixth in the NFL in rushing, ninth in third-down efficiency and 10th in red zone efficiency. The Ravens should expect to see a heavy dose of two tight ends sets from the Browns, who signed Austin Hooper during free agency before spending a fifth-round pick on Harrison Bryant, who caught 65 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns during his final season at Florida Atlantic.
"That's Stefanski's bread and butter, going all the way back in that system that he's been a part of," Harbaugh said this week, via the team's official website. "He talks about how important it is, and you can see it in the offenses that he's coached in the past. So, yes. It's going to be a big part of what we do, and we're about to find out, because we're going to play a really good running team on Sunday."
While the Browns' rushing attack against the Ravens' transformed front seven will likely determine the winner, Sunday's game will also likely come down to the play of quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson. After throwing nearly as many interceptions as touchdown passes last season, Mayfield rededicated himself this offseason, losing weight and spending significant time with Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. Mayfield will again have the luxury of throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, who are both healthy after dealing with nagging injuries last season.
The league's MVP last season, Jackson will likely be asked to run less this season after Baltimore spent a second-round pick on J.K. Dobbins, who is expected to get considerable reps alongside veteran Mark Ingram. The Ravens also armed Jackson with two new receivers in rookies Devin Duvernay and James Proche. Jackson will also look to strengthen his rapport with second-year receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, who paced the Ravens with 64 receptions for 852 yards and 10 scores in 2019.
For the second straight year, Baltimore drops their first game against the Browns, who are motivated to show that they are much better than last year's 6-10 record. Look for Hunt, who recently signed a two-year extension, to play a large role in the Browns' game plan. The same can be said of Beckham, who is out to prove that he is still one of the NFL's premier receivers.
Score: Browns 23, Ravens 20