The Baltimore Ravens look more than capable of defending their AFC North title. Despite a slow start, the rival Cleveland Browns seem poised to potentially challenge for the same crown.
Each team looks to bounce back from a defeat when the Ravens aim to continue their recent success over the visiting Browns on Sunday.
Even with a second-half surge last weekend, Baltimore's bid to start 3-0 ended with a 33-28 loss at undefeated Kansas City. The Ravens trailed 23-6 at halftime but scored 15 fourth-quarter points to make things interesting. Running back Mark Ingram II (257 rushing yards, five touchdowns) continued the strong start to his Baltimore tenure by rushing 103 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries.
While the loss was frustrating, and the Chiefs held versatile quarterback Lamar Jackson without a touchdown pass after he threw seven in wins over Miami and Arizona, the Ravens seem confident they can successfully move on.
"We've just got to clean up a bunch of stuff to make sure we're ready for Sunday," Baltimore defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. "It's a divisional game. All of them we've got to win. We have to bring it. Bring it every Sunday. This is the first step to being kings of the North. We've got to keep that title."
Riding a five-game home winning streak (playoffs excluded), the Ravens have won six of the last seven against the Browns (1-2), most recently 26-24 at Baltimore in Week 17 to clinch the 2018 AFC North title. Jackson ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns. His Cleveland counterpart, Baker Mayfield, drafted 31 spots ahead of him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, threw three touchdowns but was picked off three times by the Ravens.
"Everything we do in this division goes through Baltimore," Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. "We've got our work cut out for us across the board."
Mayfield has endured plenty of early scrutiny while completing just 56.9 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns with five interceptions through three games. His slow start is one reason the Browns, a trendy preseason favorite to win the AFC North, are in serious danger of starting 1-3.
Cleveland has averaged 16.3 points (tied for 27th in the NFL) in three games, running back Nick Chubb is gaining 77.7 yards per contest and Odell Beckham Jr. has just one touchdown catch. None of that bodes well against a Baltimore outfit that's yielded an average of 17.2 points over its last nine home games.
"We're not panicking, we understand where we're at," said Kitchens, whose team totaled 270 yards and was outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter of Sunday night's 20-13 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
"You still got to try to get better, from whether you win or lose ... We're not worried about the outside noise, whether we're doing good or doing bad. It doesn't matter. We only worry about what we can control. And what we can control today is how we prepare for Baltimore on Sunday."
The Browns received good news with safety Damarious Randall out of concussion protocol and practicing after missing the past two games. However, it's uncertain if cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, who both sat out against the Rams with hamstring injuries, will be ready after not practicing Wednesday.
Baltimore tight end Mark Andrews (foot), safety Earl Thomas (non-injury related) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) all did not practice Wednesday. Andrews and Thomas have skipped Wednesday practices the last few weeks while still playing on Sundays.
--Field Level Media