Ravens run offense vs. Browns run defense: This is the biggest mismatch of the game. Ray Rice is coming off a season-best 153 rushing yards on a career-high 31 carries. He has had consistent success against the Browns, averaging 78.2 rushing yards. The Browns have given up 100 yards to four running backs this season, including two straight (Fred Jackson and Cedric Benson). Cleveland, which has 350-pound nose tackle Shaun Rogers (questionable, ankle and hip), surprisingly gets gashed in the middle. The Browns lack speed in their front seven, which is why safety T.J. Ward leads the team in tackles. Cleveland has been one of the worst run defenses in the second half of the season, allowing at least 144 yards on the ground in five of the past six games.
Ravens pass offense vs. Browns pass defense: Joe Flacco has thrown for 22 touchdowns and three interceptions in his past 12 games, posting a 100-plus quarterback rating in eight of them. In five games against Cleveland, Flacco has completed 68.2 percent of his throws and averaged 227.2 passing yards. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin scored a season-high three touchdowns three months ago against the Browns. But cornerback Eric Wright, who was beaten for all three touchdowns, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. The Browns' weakness is stopping teams on third down (26th in the NFL). Their strength is forcing turnovers (their 18 interceptions are tied for fifth in the league). In their past three victories, the Browns have picked off eight passes. Tight end Todd Heap (questionable, hamstring) is expected to be a game-time decision.
Browns run offense vs. Ravens run defense: Peyton Hillis is trying to become the second running back in seven years to gain more than 100 yards against the Ravens in consecutive meetings (Cincinnati's Benson did it last year). He powered his way to 144 yards and one touchdown against the Ravens in September. Nearly 60 percent of Hillis' yards were gained on three runs: 48, 25 and 12 yards. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said this won't happen again. The Ravens have moved up to No. 5 against the run after holding New Orleans to 27 rushing yards, a season-best effort for the defense. The right side of the Browns' line is banged up — right guard Floyd Womack (knee) and right tackle John St. Clair (ankle) are dealing with injuries.
Browns pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: It's the first time in three seasons that the Ravens will face a rookie quarterback, and they'll look to pressure Colt McCoy. The Ravens reverted to their blitzing ways last week and have recorded eight sacks in their past three games. McCoy has been sacked 10 times in his past two starts. Weather could be a factor with McCoy, who has never played in snowy conditions and doesn't have the arm strength to be accurate throwing into the wind. Hillis (59 catches) and tight end Ben Watson (58) lead Cleveland in receiving. Terrell Suggs, who has 71/2 sacks in his past seven games, likely will line up against Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who has given up four sacks this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The usually dangerous Josh Cribbs has struggled this season, ranking 31st on kickoff returns and 15th on punt returns. The Browns returner might not have recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him this season. Cleveland's coverage teams rank in the top 10. The Ravens' Lardarius Webb has returned a punt at least 22 yards in three straight games. The Browns have gotten solid seasons from kicker Phil Dawson (21-for-26 on field-goal tries) and punter Reggie Hodges (44.1-yard average). But the Ravens' specialists have produced stronger seasons. Billy Cundiff has converted 19 of his past 20 field-goal attempts. Sam Koch has placed a career-high 36 punts inside the 20-yard line, which leads the NFL. Rookie David Reed is out with a head injury, which means Jalen Parmele will return kickoffs.
INTANGIBLES: All the motivation rests with the Ravens, who can clinch a playoff berth with a win. A Ravens loss would give the AFC North and a No. 2 seed to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In losing to two last-place teams (Buffalo and Cincinnati) in consecutive weeks, the Browns look like they're packing it in for coach Eric Mangini, who is expected to be fired at the end of the season. Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 5-0 against the Browns, winning by an average margin of 16.4 points. Under Harbaugh, they're 16-1 against teams with losing records. Cleveland has three wins against AFC North teams since the start of the 2007 season. The Ravens have failed to hold a fourth-quarter lead in nine games this season, but the Browns have been outscored 102-60 in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: In a season where nothing has come easy for the Ravens, clinching a playoff berth will be a cinch for them. Rice will overwhelm the Browns, and the Ravens' defense will do the same to McCoy. It's on to the postseason for a third straight year.