Ravens can clinch division vs. Browns
The Baltimore Ravens are on the cusp of winning the AFC North title.
Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has the Ravens in position to win the division for the first time since 2012 and end a three-year postseason drought.
Baltimore can wrap up the division by beating the resurgent Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The Ravens (9-6) paved their way with an impressive 22-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers and moved into first place when the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the New Orleans Saints.
"At the beginning of the season, if we'd say that we control our destiny going into the last game to win the division, we would all sign up for that," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "We're excited about that, and now we get to play a championship game."
Baltimore had won five straight in the series against the Browns before dropping a 12-9 overtime decision at Cleveland in Week 5.
The Ravens, featuring the league's most dominant defense, have since overhauled their offense with Jackson, who a year ago was preparing to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl for Louisville.
A hip injury to incumbent Joe Flacco forced Baltimore to move Jackson into the starting lineup and the former Heisman Trophy winner has responded by going 5-1 in his six starts.
"I'm just growing each and every week," Jackson said. "It's still our team, like I said before, because I'm not out there blocking. I'm just doing my part."
Jackson has rushed for 605 yards, the most among all NFL quarterbacks. In his six starts, Jackson has rushed for 466 yards, which ranks eighth overall in the NFL since Week 11. Baltimore needs to get its running game revved up to set the tone against a Cleveland defense that is ranked 29th in the league.
"They've played well all year long," Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams said of Baltimore. "They're playing great team complementary fashion. We have our work cut out for us.
"It's going to be a fist fight. It's going to be a tough hard-nosed battle. It reminds me of a lot of the old-school games that have been in this league a long time."
Baltimore was in a similar position in last season's finale, but a monumental collapse cost them a chance to reach the postseason. The Ravens surrendered a last-minute 49-yard touchdown pass on fourth down in a 31-27 defeat and are determined not to be knocked out of the playoffs again this season.
"We all have our own motivation," Baltimore cornerback Brandon Carr said. "I only have a few playoff games in my 11 years, so I have a lot of added motivation with that. But definitely, last year doesn't sit well with us. We had a prime opportunity to extend our season, and we failed at it. We didn't finish the job, so that's why this year, the art of finish is big for us.
"Just finding ways to win this game by any means necessary, emptying your tank, giving it your all, and then we'll reload for next week once we get there."
Defense has helped put the Ravens back in the playoff race. Baltimore is tied for sixth with 43 sacks on the year but one of the keys will be shutting down Browns running back Nick Chubb and making quarterback Baker Mayfield try and win the game through the air.
Chubb has been impressive and is ranked ninth in the NFL with 972 yards with eight touchdowns. Mayfield, who needs two touchdown passes to tie the league rookie record of 26 held by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson, was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
"He's grown. He's a good player," Harbaugh said of Mayfield. "I don't compare; who cares how much he's grown since the last time we played him? It's not our job to determine that or to measure that. Our job is to compete against him and try to stop him -- him and the whole team, and that's the challenge. Their offense revolves around the quarterback, Baker Mayfield. He's playing very well."
Cleveland has made the biggest turnaround in franchise history. After winning once in the previous two seasons and finishing 0-16 in 2017, the Browns are 7-7-1, including a 5-2 mark since Williams was named interim head coach following the firing of Hue Jackson.
"To be quite truthful, it's one of the things that I said when I came here to ownership is I wanted to help them have this feeling and I wanted to help them do that," said Williams. "I feel good about giving the opportunity for people to feel like it has been in other buildings where I've been."
Updated December 26, 2018