Ravens-Browns game loses luster
No doubt, there are a lot of people in the NFL offices and at ESPN who are wondering what the schedule makers were thinking when they decided to put the Ravens and Cleveland Browns together on Monday Night Football in late November.
Apparently, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The Ravens are always in the playoff race in November, right? And the Browns are a division rival that was created because the Ravens used to be the Browns before they moved to Baltimore 20 years ago.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, just about everything. The Ravens have tumbled from near the top of everybody's preseason power rankings to a place they had only once been during the 21st century. The Browns haven't surprised anyone by winning only two of their first 10 games, but they have been even more disappointing than expected, which is actually a dubious achievement since they were 32nd in the Fox Sports preseason rankings.
So, here's what you've got to look forward to Monday night if you decide to skip "Gotham" on Fox or the back-to-back Charlie Brown Christmas specials on ABC:
The sad saga of Johnny Manziel: The game was supposed to feature at least one interesting subplot, because behaviorally-challenged quarterback Johnny Manziel had been named the Browns starting quarterback for the remainder of the season before the team entered its bye week.
Maybe this would be the moment when the Browns' second first-round pick in the 2014 draft finally got his act together and relaunched his career. Or not.
Manziel, who spent part of the offseason in a rehab facility, celebrated his promotion with another hard-partying incident that was caught on video, then allegedly encouraged friends to lie about it to cover for him. He was quickly demoted to third string and might not even be active for Monday night's game.
Who knows where his career — and his life — goes from here?
The Ravens unraveled: There isn't enough room here to list all the reasons the Ravens went from potential AFC Super Bowl representative to a thin shell of the team that came into training camp with such lofty expectations.
The storyline Monday will be the first Ravens game started by someone other than Joe Flacco in the eight seasons of the Flacco/John Harbaugh era. Veteran Matt Schaub will be the starter with former Notre Dame star Jimmy Clausen just off the bus to back him up.
The Ravens have lost every marquee skills player on offense to a season-ending injury, which will make for a great graphic early in the first quarter of the ESPN broadcast. That's why the Ravens will head to Cleveland as a field-goal underdog to a team that just benched its new starting quarterback and is tied for the worst record (2-8) in the NFL.
The Browns vs. the Browns: It might be ancient history, but Cleveland hasn't forgotten that Art Modell uprooted the old Browns and moved them to Baltimore to take advantage of the sweet stadium deal he couldn't get in Ohio. The sports fans of the region have forgiven LeBron James for rubbing their noses in his defection to Miami five years ago — now that he's back — but they will never stop hating the Ravens.
It'll be hard to avoid that narrative, since there won't a lot else going on.
Still, the MNF crew will make the best of it because that's what they do. There's no way to predict before the season which teams are going to fall off the map, and this has been one of most beguiling seasons in recent memory.
The Ravens were in everybody's top 10 when they opened training camp. The undefeated Carolina Panthers were 26th in the Fox Sports preseason rankings.
Ravens fans might want to enjoy this prime-time night game because it could be the last one they see for a while. The Ravens are tentatively scheduled to play Sunday night games on Dec. 13 against the Seattle Seahawks and Dec. 27 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But those are flex games that can be rescheduled to improve the quality of the prime-time matchup.
In case you were wondering, here's the capsule from the DirecTV listing for Monday Night's game:
"The Ravens look to avenge a 33-30 loss to the Browns from October in this contest of AFC North bottom dwellers."
If that doesn't get you ready for some football, well, you've probably got a life.