The Monday Night Epic in Cleveland just concluded. The Ravens ended up winning 47-42 and improbably covering the -3 spread on a safety at the end after the Browns tried to pull off the ol’ Stanford-Cal miracle. I’m sure it swung a ton of money in Vegas.
That’s the clubhouse leader for 2020 NFL Game of the Year. It had it all: scoring, late lead changes, the Browns making a roaring comeback, suspense, and most of all Lamar Jackson making a late dramatic return to the game to save the Ravens’ season. They said he was cramping up and had to go to the locker room, but people online immediately began speculating that nature was calling for Lamar. Whether it was true or not, the fact that Robert Griffin III, who is literally on the Ravens, tweeted this out:
Whatever it was, he came back into the game on a 4th & 4 down 42-35 after backup QB Trace McSorley sadly got injured. It was perfect timing. Somehow, just as McSorley was being carried back to the sideline, the camera pans to Lamar Jackson on the sideline putting on a helmet and apparently about to go back into the game. On the 4th & 4 play, Lamar rolled out to his right and it looked like he was about to run for the first down, but he found a wide open Hollywood Brown who ran it in for the 44 yard TD. The Browns answered with a quick game-tying Kareem Hunt TD of their own, but there was still 1:04 on the clock and you just had the feeling they left too much time for Baltimore. And they did. Justin Tucker hit the go-ahead 55-yard field goal with 2 seconds left on the clock.
Is Justin Tucker the greatest kicker in NFL history? He’s already the all-time leader in kicking accuracy. He’s been in the league since 2012, so he doesn’t have the longevity of some of the older guys like Robbie Gould (ranked 5th overall), but 8 years is still a pretty sizable track record. He just might be the GOAT of kickers.
If you’re Cleveland, yes this loss hurts, but I still think it’s encouraging for Cleveland. The Ravens won the earlier matchup this season 38-6. This one the Browns were in til the very end. The Browns can play with these guys. Their defense was just gassed at the end. They couldn’t stop Lamar on that final drive. Lamar was unable to get anything going through the air all game until the final drive. Before it, he was just 7/12 passing.
I’m really impressed with Browns coach Kevin Stefanski’ s playcalling. It reminds me a lot of the 2018 Rams: heavy on the play action, creative calls and always finding a way to scheme guys open. He put Baker in a great position to succeed, but give Baker credit for executing. He finished 28/47 for 343 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. The INT was really his only screw-up in the game. It looked really bad live; he threw it out to a covered receiver towards the sideline, but he must not have seen the Ravens defender who picked it off. When they showed the replay you could see that perhaps the line got in the way and he never saw the guy. That pick gave the Ravens the ball on the Browns 1 yard line, and they ran it in for a TD a play later. It was a costly mistake, but other than that, Baker was excellent. For the second-straight game, he showed why he was the #1 pick in the draft. He showed that he’s more than just a game manager who is carried by his run game. In this game, he did the carrying, although Chubb and Hunt were both running wild.
But in the end, it was the Ravens who not only wanted it it more, but needed it more. They were 7-5 coming in and had they lost, their playoff hopes would have been in serious jeopardy. They’re still the #8 seed after the win as the Dolphins hold the tiebreaker over them based on conference record, but they really needed this win to keep pace with Miami with just 3 games to go. Huge win for Baltimore.
Now, on to the rankings:
↔ 1. Chiefs (12-1): I’ve already written a lot about them this week. There’s little else to say right now. They’re the Warriors of the NFL. They look almost unbeatable. They’ve got a tough matchup against the Saints this week, but other than that I don’t see them realistically losing until potentially the Super Bowl.
📈 2. Packers (10-3): With the Saints loss to Philly, the Packers move into 1st place in the NFC. Rodgers continues his MVP season, and while you’d prefer he didn’t have to be perfect just for his team to beat the Lions, but the Packers are probably the only offense that can hang with Kansas City.
📈 3. Rams (9-4): Their win over the Pats was more impressive than people might give the Rams credit for. This Patriots team came in hot having beaten both the Ravens and Cardinals in recent weeks. The Rams might have the best defense in the league and they are more than competent on offense. I’d love to see them match up with the Packers because to me it’s basically a toss-up between these two. I gave the Packers a nod because they have Aaron Rodgers and the Rams don’t. But I think the Rams would be a tough draw for Green Bay: Jalen Ramsey would be able to shadow Davante Adams, and Aaron Donald would be doing his usual thing in the trenches. The Rams would probably be able to run all over the Packers, too.
📈 4. Bills (10-3): Huge win over Pittsburgh for this young team. Josh Allen looks like he’s the new Big Ben, and perhaps Sunday night was a passing of the torch. He’s a very special player. Sean McDermott is quietly one of the best coaches in the game. I thought Sunday night would be a shootout but the Bills defense, which hasn’t been great this season, did a phenomenal job keeping the Steelers in check.
📉 5. Saints (10-3): I don’t want to overreact too much to their loss to the Eagles, but it’s concerning that they let up 238 rushing yards. It’s not looking like Drew Brees will be back for this week’s game against the Chiefs so the Saints could be staring at another L. I still think they’re a really good team, but not quite as good as I thought they were last week, which was the second-best team in the league. I’m just worried that they won’t be able to keep up with Kansas City and that their great defensive stats have been a product of their weak schedule. I need to see some proof that the Saints are elite this weekend.
📈 6. Bucs (8-5): It was a must-win game against the Vikings and the Bucs won. Minnesota is a playoff-caliber team and the Bucs won fairly easily. A lot of people have given up on this team but I’m still a believer in their potential. They have an elite pass rush, a great run defense (although Dalvin Cook was able to get his on Sunday), probably the best offensive weapons in the league, and the GOAT. Sure, Brady has looked a bit off this season, but he’s not a guy I’m going to bet against. The big liability for Tampa is their pass defense, however. An encouraging sign: they held Kirk Cousins to a pretty pedestrian 225 yards passing and kept both Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson in check.
📈 7. Browns (9-4): I guess the Browns move up a spot despite losing, but only because the Steelers lost once again. Now for the bad news: Baltimore ran for 231 yards on them, and a ridiculous 7.2 yards per carry. Baker looked great, but the Browns have to figure out how to stop the run or else it’ll be their Achilles’ Heel.
📉 8. Steelers (11-2): They look completely broken on offense. They can’t run the ball at all. Getting James Conner back didn’t help. And they’ve lost two of their best defensive players for the season–Devin Bush and Bud Dupree. Things have gone south fast for the Stillers. I’m being generous putting them at 8.
📈 9. Titans (9-4): They handled the lowly Jags, 31-10. Not much else to say about them this week. They’re still in first place in the AFC South but any slip up and the Colts will take over, as the two have the same record. I have Pittsburgh ahead of the Titans because Pittsburgh has beaten Tennessee already this season. But I highly doubt Pittsburgh would beat them today.
📈 10. Colts (9-4): The Colts got a pretty impressive win over the Raiders, blowing the doors off them 44-27. It was definitely more impressive than Tennessee’s win over Jacksonville, but since the Titans beat the Colts big fairly recently, I’m keeping the Titans a ahead. But the Colts are a pretty complete team, and that’s more than a lot of other teams can say. I think they’re a dark horse to upset Kansas City in the playoffs.
📈 11. Ravens (8-5): They had to have that win against Cleveland, and they got it. Lamar was not great passing, but he was great when he had to be at the end. He threw them down the field and got them into position to kick the game-winning field goal. He also had 124 yards rushing. In that stretch during the game where they were without him, the Ravens looked lost on offense. Is MVP Lamar back? It looked like it against Cleveland.
📉 12. Seahawks (9-4): Yes, they hammered the Jets 40-3, but it’s the Jets. We all expected this to happen. I still just don’t think the Seahawks can win the Super Bowl and it’s mainly because of their defense.
📉 13. Dolphins (8-5): Give them credit for hanging in there against Kansas City and attempting to mount a late comeback, but the Dolphins just don’t have enough on offense to compete with the best team in the AFC. Very few other teams do, though. Miami is still a solid young team. I’m only dropping them a spot for losing to Kansas City. I had to move the Ravens up.
📈 14. Cardinals (7-6): Did the Cardinals get their season back on track with their 26-7 win over the Giants? Maybe. The Giants are horrible on offense and the Cardinals might be underrated on defense. The Cardinals just looked like they were in a whole different category than the Giants in that game. I’m giving the Cardinals credit here because that Giants defense is no joke. They held Seattle to just 12 points in Seattle a week ago.
📈 15. Washington (6-7): They’ve taken over first place in the NFC BEAST 😤💯💪 and they are becoming the one team in the NFC nobody wants to play. Their defense might legitimately be elite, however they have not really played a tough schedule this year so the jury is still out. They rank high in just about every category. Their offense is below average, however, which really caps their upside.
📉 16. Vikings (6-7): They weren’t really that competitive against Tampa. While the Vikings didn’t get blown out, at least on the scoreboard, that game just affirms for us that Minnesota’s upside is very limited. They’re a decent team, but they’re not really scaring the top teams.
📉 17. Raiders (7-6): I’m out on the Raiders. The Colts just outclassed them in every facet of the game Sunday. The Raiders, for a brief moment this season, looked pretty good. But they’re fading fast now. If not for their miracle win against the Jets, the Raiders would be on a four-game losing streak. They were blown away by mediocre Atlanta the week prior to that Jets game.
📉 18. Patriots (6-7): The Rams put an end to the Patriots’ hopes this season. Belichick and McDaniels can find ways to scheme them to wins against some decent teams sometimes, but they’re not competitive when it comes to the elite teams in the league. This is one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL. They’re overperforming their talent level, give Bill credit for that. But their playoff hopes are officially dead.
📉 19. Giants (5-8): Everyone was hyping up the Giants after they beat Seattle, but we shouldn’t be under any illusions as to what this team is. They’re a pretty good defense with a very limited offense. They’re not going anywhere this year.
That’s really it for the teams that matter.
Statistical rankings and QB statistical rankings will be updated and out tomorrow.
Header photo credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images