CLEVELAND (AP) — There’s no easy road to the AFC playoffs. However, the Baltimore Ravens may be on one.
They’re facing a three-week pathway to the postseason deprived of much real danger.
Don’t tell John Harbaugh that, though.
Baltimore’s coach isn’t buying that his team’s last three regular-season games are gimmes, and he refused to allow his players to feel comfortable as they prepared to play their final road game on Sunday against the lowly Browns (0-13), who are hoping to dodge disgrace as the second 0-16 team in NFL history.
Although Cleveland has come up short 13 times in 13 tries in 2017, Harbaugh insists the Browns can’t be overlooked.
“I feel like they have played well all year,” Harbaugh said. “They have played well enough to win plenty of games this year. All you have to do is watch the tape to understand that. They are very well coached, a very hard playing team with talent. We are going to have our hands full with a very good football team, and that is how we are looking at it.”
The Ravens (7-6) control their postseason destiny, and with a 3-0 finish they’ll return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
Their schedule appears to be favorable with the game at Cleveland followed by home dates against Indianapolis and Cincinnati — three teams with a combined 8-31 record.
Yeah, the Browns are winless. And that’s what makes them perilous.
They are the first team to go 0-13 to start consecutive seasons, and the Browns want to avoid further infamy.
Getting a win in their last home game — that’s what they did last season to escape 0-16 — and spoiling Baltimore’s season would ease the pain of another forgettable year.
“If we are going to go and get our first win, we would love to get it in front of our home crowd,” said Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who threw three interceptions in Baltimore’s 24-10 win on Sept. 17.
“Obviously, the end of the season can go one of two ways: It can create momentum going into next year or you can reset after this year and try to squash and put it behind you.
“As a team, we have made a decision that we want to see momentum into next year.”
ROUGH YEAR: Kizer was forced to leave the Browns’ first matchup against Baltimore with a migraine. It wasn’t his only malady this season.
It’s been a bumpy baptism for the 21-year-old, who enters Sunday’s game leading the league with 17 interceptions. Kizer has been benched and beaten, but not broken.
Despite his deficiencies, coach Hue Jackson believes Kizer can develop into a quality starter.
“There are some things that you continue to even scratch your head about, but I think he is working through it,” Jackson said. “He gets it. He is accountable to it. He knows there are some things he has to fix, and he is trying.”
CLUTCH COLLINS: Coming off the finest game of his NFL career, Ravens running back Alex Collins is poised to face the league’s sixth-ranked rushing defense.
Collins ran for 120 yards, caught two passes for 46 and scored a touchdown in Pittsburgh. Not bad for a guy who started the season on Baltimore’s practice squad.
“Alex has been electric,” Harbaugh said. “He has made some plays after contact; he has made plays in the passing game; he has been explosive and scored touchdowns. He’s been a difference-maker.”
CLOSE, NO CIGAR: The Browns’ 0-13 record doesn’t tell the complete story. Cleveland has lost twice in overtime, four times by three points and seven of its losses have been by 12 or fewer.
The Browns are overdue.
“You go into a game and you think, ‘Oh, we should beat this team,’ then you end up coming up short, and you’re like, ‘Why?’” Baltimore rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “It’s never a guaranteed win in the NFL. You have to treat every team the same, no matter what their record is.”
SUPER SUGGS: At 35, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs shows no signs of slowing down. He’s third in the AFC with 11 sacks and the six-time Pro Bowler is one tackle shy of 900 in his career.
“There are not very many people like him walking around on the planet,” Harbaugh said. “He is kind of born and built to play football and to play defensive end, outside linebacker in this league.”
CORNER ROOKIE: With cornerback Jimmy Smith lost for the season with a torn Achilles, the Ravens are counting on Humphrey to fill the void.
His goal this week will be to shut down the Browns’ passing game and shut up Cleveland’s fans
“I love away games,” said Humphrey, who played at Alabama. “I can play more clear when there’s a lot of hate and feel the energy like that.”
Baltimore gave up 506 yards passing last week, and won’t have it easy on Sunday.
“The Browns have some pretty good receivers with (Corey) Coleman and (Josh) Gordon,” he said. “It’ll be another good challenge for us. Their record doesn’t say much, but their skill players are definitely very, very elite.”