KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
PREDICTION: Ravens 34-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens are 2-3 on the road, with a reputation to playing to the level of their competition. But the offensive line is starting to gel and Baltimore can't take its foot off the gas in a tight playoff race. QB Joe Flacco wasn't sacked once last week and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is keeping RB Ray Rice involved even when the ground game stalls earl. The Browns must get a strong game out of RB Peyton Hillis. The Ravens might be without MLB Ray Lewis again, but had nine sacks in their last outing and Browns QB Colt McCoy simply isn't getting enough help from his wideouts to be consistently successful downfield.
FAST FACTS: Flacco is 6-0 with a 101.9 passer rating career against the Browns. ... Browns WR Greg Little leads all NFL rookies with 47 catches.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Which Baltimore Ravens team will show up on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns?
The defensively-dominating, offensively-efficient group that outslugged playoff contenders like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Houston Texans and - on Thanksgiving night - the San Francisco 49ers?
Or the error-prone, game plan-straying ragtag that turned in bewildering outings in losses to the Tennessee Titans, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Seattle Seahawks?
"We've got to show up and play," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "We can't afford to have a letdown because we've only got a (tiebreaker) lead on the Steelers (in the AFC North). I don't know what the lead is on Cincinnati, but it isn't much."
For a team that aspires to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in February, the Ravens have to prove that they can deal with success.
Each of the team's three setbacks this season have occurred at the hands of sub-.500 opponents after emotionally-stirring victories.
Those outcomes have led some to question Baltimore's level of focus. After all, the team rose to the occasion against high-caliber competition like Pittsburgh one week before Tennessee and one week before Seattle and Houston eight days before Jacksonville, but lagged when the level of competition dipped.
Running back Ray Rice echoed the sentiments of many of his teammates by dismissing that theory.
"No, I don't think (we're) playing to the level of the competition," he said. "Every NFL team is good. Anybody can win on any given Sunday. The one thing I can say is if you look at the three losses that we've had, if you look at the level of execution that we've had, it was poor. If you look at the situation - whether it was fumbles, whether it was field position, whether it was getting drives started - we played poor football. Sometimes you've just got to give another team credit. When another team comes out ready to play and you're not ready to play, you fall behind, and then you find yourself playing out of your normal game plan. Going forward, we know we can't do that. We've got to come out ready to play. Every game from here on out is essentially a playoff game. We're fighting for something."
With identical 8-3 records as the Texans, New England Patriots and the Steelers, the Ravens have plenty of motivation to leave Cleveland with a victory and keep themselves in the hunt for a potential first-round bye and a playoff game at home.
A loss on Sunday, and the team might have to travel on the road for the fourth consecutive season.
"We've got to turn over every stone," coach John Harbaugh said. "We certainly acknowledge that those three losses, coming off of big wins, against teams with sub-.500 records, were not good performances. They are team losses the way we look at it - coaches, players, all of us. They are there, they are on the record. Now, we face a similar challenge this week, but a tougher challenge because now we have to go play a team in our division, a team that you saw play the Bengals last week and control the game for most of the game."
Quarterback Joe Flacco partially defended Baltimore, asserting that for all of the team's stumbling, it is still among the AFC's best.
"People want to say we've had an up-and-down season. We're 8-3," he said. "There's nobody better than us in the AFC right now. So to say we've had an up-and-down season is a little ... I don't think it's correct. It's just we haven't played well against some teams that people expect us to beat. Sometimes that happens. Like I've said, we're a young football team. We've worked on being more consistent, and I've said all along, we're going to get better and better as the year goes on, and that's what we're working towards."
But outside linebacker Terrell Suggs conceded that the Ravens' credentials will be suspect until they put away the teams they are supposed to beat.
"Obviously, everybody's making it a point, and we can't seem to get away from it," he said." Rightfully so, we've earned that. We've gone on the road against a team that - quote-unquote - wasn't good in y'all eyes, and we dropped it. So like I said, we've definitely earned that reputation. And until we show y'all different, that's going to be the story."
Colt McCoy's protection has improved each of the past three weeks. Now he is in for his biggest test of the season when the Browns host the Ravens on Sunday.
The Ravens lead the NFL with 28 sacks - nine of them against the 49ers' Alex Smith on Thanksgiving night. They are well-rested and hungry for more. The Ravens are 8-3 and tied for first with Pittsburgh in the AFC North. The Ravens have to beat the Browns to keep pace.
McCoy has been sacked 26 times and has been hit 64 times in 11 games. Four teams have given up more quarterback hits, but each of those teams have played at least two quarterbacks this season.
McCoy has started every game in his second season with the Browns and so far has lived to line up with the first team in the next practice. One Monday he had both knees wrapped. His right shoulder was pummeled in the Jacksonville game Nov. 20. Last week he left the locker room with a sore right elbow after banging it on a player's helmet while scrambling on the third play of the game in Cincinnati.
McCoy has to make it through the next five games to become the first Browns quarterback since Tim Couch in 2001 to go wire to wire as the starter. Four days after playing the Ravens he has to face the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
"You have to trust your guys," McCoy said. "You have to trust your running backs. You have to trust your offensive line to pick up the protection and you have to trust your guys to get open. That's how it is week to week.
"This week they are really good up front. At least numbers coming into this game, they've pressured more than anybody we've seen. We've got a lot on our plate, a lot to handle, but we're excited about the challenge."
The Browns haven't beaten the Ravens since sweeping them in 2007. The Ravens have sacked a bevy of Browns quarterbacks since then - Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Seneca Wallace and McCoy - a total of 12 times while going 6-0 since the Browns won 33-30 in overtime in Baltimore four years ago. The Ravens sacked Wallace twice while winning 24-17 in Cleveland last year.
The Ravens did not sack McCoy when they beat the Browns, 20-10, in the 15th game of 2010 but it didn't matter because McCoy threw three interceptions and had a passer rating of 27.0 (career low) while playing in a wind chill of 13 degrees in Cleveland. According to the play-by-play, McCoy wasn't even hit once.
A key battle Sunday pits two Goliaths in a Pro Bowl showdown - left tackle Joe Thomas of the Browns vs. end/linebacker Terrell Suggs.
"If you get in a known passing situation, watch out, because they're going to pin their ears back and do everything they can to get home," Thomas said. "Every year when we play them they're going to give us our best challenge because they put some impressive specimens out on the field. We have to keep it close. That's the key a lot of times; keep the game close so you can keep the defense off balance."
Suggs has 12 sacks against the Browns. No other player in league history has equaled that. Four of the 12 were against Thomas.
--LB Ray Lewis did not practice for the second straight day because of an injured toe on his right foot. It's beginning to appear that Lewis will sit out his third consecutive game.
--CB Chris Carr also did not practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. Carr, who has been hampered by a recurring back ailment, did not play in Baltimore's win against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night.
--LB Dannell Ellerbe fully participated in practice for the second straight day. Ellerbe, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury, is expected to fill Ray Lewis' absence in the starting lineup on Sunday.
--DT Arthur Jones fully practiced for the second consecutive day. Jones, who did not play in the team's last two contests, is expected to play.
--LB Terrell Suggs was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday. It's the first time in Suggs' career that he has earned the award twice in a single season.
--DT Haloti Ngata is one sack away from eclipsing his previous career best set last season. Ngata currently ranks second on the team with five sacks.
--LB Josh Bynes was re-signed to the practice squad on Thursday. Bynes, an undrafted rookie who had been promoted to the active roster from the practice squad on Nov. 23, had been released on Tuesday to make room for defensive back Emanuel Cook, a former New York Jet who had been claimed off waivers.
--S T.J. Ward did not practice Thursday. He has missed three straight games with a foot injury and is not expected to play Sunday.
--RB Montario Hardesty was limited with a calf injury. He has missed four straight games and did not practice Wednesday.
--S Mike Adams returned to practice. He was out Wednesday with a sprained shoulder. He said he "took a veteran's day off."
--DE Jayme Mitchell is recovering from an ankle injury and was limited Thursday. He did not play against the Bengals.
--LB Quinton Spears did not practice because of a hamstring injury. Spears is third on the team with five special teams tackles.