We know the Ravens should fear themselves on Sunday in Cleveland. After all, it’s a road game against a lesser opponent following an emotional win (though they do have 10 days to get their minds right).
But should the Ravens fear the Cleveland Browns, who are 4-7 but a divisional foe nonetheless?
The Browns defense is the biggest reason why they have been able to hang around in tight games against teams like the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers. They also beat the Seattle Seahawks, 6-3, in one October game. A lunch-pail group with no big-name defenders that pop out at you, the Browns are sixth in the NFL in total yards allowed per game and ninth in points allowed.
Cleveland has forced just 12 turnovers, though. Only four NFL teams have fewer takeaways in 2011.
Offensively, second-year quarterback Colt McCoy has been pretty mediocre, though in his defense, the Browns might have the less-skilled group of skill players in the league. Their leading receiver is a rookie (Greg Little) and their top rusher is with his third team in three seasons (Chris Ogbonnaya).
One bright spot for the Browns, who have lost four of their past five games, was the return of “Madden” cover boy Peyton Hillis on Sunday. Hillis had been sidelined for a month and a half with a hamstring injury. In his first game back, he rushed for 65 yards on 19 carries in a 23-20 loss to the Bengals.
Hillis ran all over the Ravens in their first meeting last season, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries and catching seven passes (he had just 35 rushing yards on 12 carries whey they met later in the season). The Ravens certainly remember the damage he did, even if they still don’t know who he is.
His bulldozing running style could present a challenge for the Ravens defense if linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe remain on the sidelines this weekend. The Ravens did a good job in shutting down 49ers back Frank Gore in the Harbaugh Bowl, but few runners in the NFL are as physical as Hillis.
If the Ravens don’t get run over Hillis -- or beaten by themselves -- Sunday’s result should be a win.