The AFC North appears to be a two-horse race between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, but the Cleveland Browns’ playoff hopes are still alive.
On Saturday, the Browns host the Ravens — a team with major question marks at quarterback — eager to start a late-season winning streak that could extend faint postseason odds for Cleveland.
The Browns’ 23-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last week interrupted a two-game win streak. Cleveland (5-8) likely needs to win out and have a few teams in the AFC wild-card hunt stall.
“I don’t know what our chances are. I don’t know what the percentage is,” Browns defensive end Myles Garrett said after Sunday’s loss. “I just know next week we got to go 1-0. We’ve got to punch someone in the mouth. And if our chances are zero, we got to knock down someone else’s chances.
“At the end of the day, I’m not giving up. And this team’s not giving up.”
Deshaun Watson played his second game since finishing an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after being the subject of more than two dozen sexual misconduct lawsuits.
He completed 26 of 42 passes for 276 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Cincinnati, but the Bengals took a 20-3 lead early in the second half and cruised to the finish line.
“I’m encouraged with how he played (Sunday),” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said of Watson. “He’s gonna continue to get better and I think we’ll continue to get better as an offense with him.”
Watson was still suspended when the Browns visited the Ravens (9-4) for their first meeting, which Baltimore won 23-20 on Oct. 23.
Baltimore’s quarterback depth chart could be the difference this time. Lamar Jackson sat out Sunday’s 16-14 win at Pittsburgh with a knee injury, reportedly a sprained PCL. While he hasn’t been ruled out for Saturday, ESPN reported that Jackson likely will not play until Dec. 24 against Atlanta or later.
Backup Tyler Huntley started against the Steelers but took a jarring hit to the head and had to enter concussion protocol early in the second half. Rookie Anthony Brown finished the game, and Baltimore held on to win on a day that also saw Steelers QB Kenny Pickett enter concussion protocol. Jackson didn’t practice in Tuesday’s walkthrough. Huntley, however, participated in a limited capacity despite remaining in protocol.
“Part of the process is what he did today,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s in the protocol and he’s allowed to do walkthrough.”
It might not matter who starts under center if Baltimore’s defense stays hot. The Ravens have allowed the eighth-fewest points (19.2 per game) in the league and rank second in rushing defense (81.2 yards per game). In their past four wins, they’ve held opponents to 13, three, nine and 14 points.
Since being acquired from Chicago before the trade deadline, linebacker Roquan Smith has 37 tackles (four for loss), two sacks and two pass breakups in five games. He added an interception against Pittsburgh. He’s quickly formed an imposing tandem with young inside linebacker Patrick Queen.
“Just having the utmost trust and comfort with each other and playing the calls that they’re giving us,” Queen said. “I think we both know how great we can be and I think that’s pushing us to be better than what we’ve been playing.”
Cleveland’s Nick Chubb ran for 91 yards and a touchdown in the earlier loss to Baltimore, but he was held to 34 yards on 14 attempts by Cincinnati last week. Baltimore did not have receiver Demarcus Robinson (illness) in Tuesday’s walkthrough. Guard Kevin Zeitler, tackle Morgan Moses and punter Jordan Stout were limited with knee injuries.
Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a foot injury. Garrett, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and receiver Amari Cooper had rest days Tuesday, according to an estimated injury report. Cooper is playing through a core muscle injury. Wideout David Bell (thumb, toe) was also listed as DNP. –Field Level Media