The Baltimore Ravens haven’t been to the postseason for the past three years and are trying to break that now, but have visions of a surprise Super Bowl run in their heads, similar to the run that they made in 2012 that forced them into a debilitating contract with Joe Flacco because he suddenly played great for four games.
The Cleveland Browns are not even able to make it into the postseason. But they have been doing very well lately, winning five of their past six games. On the line for them is perhaps something even bigger than a postseason berth, and that is a sense of identity.
If the Browns can beat the Ravens when their opponent has everything to play for, an opponent that has been hot lately, and in doing so give themselves their first winning season in over a decade, that is going to be a big moment that can carry over into 2019.
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is now 6-6 as a starter, told reporters about the game that it’s “the first playoff atmosphere that our guys have seen”. It is, in a sense, in that the Ravens need the win to ensure that they make it, and it falls in the evening as well. “Denver was a great, primetime game, but this is a big one”.
It’s big for the Pittsburgh Steelers as well, because a win would do wonders for them. As long as they beat the Cincinnati Bengals themselves, a Browns win over the Ravens would push the Steelers into the playoffs at the number four seed and the AFC North champions.
Said Mayfield of the matchup with the Ravens, “they are playing for a playoff spot and we are playing to prove who we are”. That’s no small thing when who you are is the Cleveland Browns, the perennial losers who haven’t had a non-losing season since 2007 and who have generally bumbled their way through opportunities year after year after year.
They went from zero wins to now seven and a half, however, and could reach eight on Sunday. They are building a nucleus within their roster that they believe could foster sustainable success with likes of Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward, Jarvis Landry, Jabrill Peppers, and others.
“It is a lot of motivation, and it is not just about them. It is about us winning and going out on a high note, even though the playoffs are out of reach. It is about us”, Mayfield said. “That is what it has always been about so that is the motivation. The true motivation is taking care of business, making sure everybody knows exactly the standard around here”.