CLEVELAND -- The reason many teams don't want to see the Baltimore Ravens in the postseason is because of their defense.
It's far from the most suffocating defense in the NFL, but it's the NFL's best big-play one, which makes the Ravens dangerous if they can make the playoffs.
The Ravens took control of the game with Za'Darius Smith's strip-sack in the end zone, which led to Brandon Williams' fumble recovery for a touchdown. Baltimore then sealed its fourth win in five games with Brandon Carr's interception in the end zone.
"I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous how we were going to play," safety Eric Weddle said of a defense that allowed 39 points in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. "I’m proud of this group. I’m proud of the way we responded and just the belief and the character of our team from our head coach down to the players on this team, that we ‘re going to fight."
At 8-6, the Ravens kept pace with the Buffalo Bills for the final playoff spot in the AFC, although Baltimore holds the tiebreaker over them because of a better record among common opponents. The Ravens finish their regular season with home games against the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals, a pair that entered Week 15 as the two worst offenses in the NFL.
Baltimore now can claim the title of the top playmaking defense in the league. The Ravens lead the NFL with 33 takeaways and rank second only to the Jacksonville Jaguars with five defensive touchdowns.
This has been Baltimore's most reliable path to victory this season. Takeaways equal wins. The Ravens are now 7-1 when they force multiple turnovers and they're 1-5 when they don't.
"Turnovers happen because you play hard and you're in the right spot," coach John Harbaugh said.
Baltimore can't tout itself as the best defense. The Ravens make too many mistakes, from giving up a 59-yard run when the Browns were backed up to their end zone, to allowing Cleveland to get in position for a field goal in the final seconds of the first half.
But the Ravens' defense continues to change the momentum of games. Weddle picked off his team-leading sixth pass, C.J. Mosley forced his third fumble and Williams became the fourth Baltimore defensive player to score a touchdown.
Williams reached the end zone in the third quarter when he jumped on the ball that was jarred loose by Smith's sack of rookie DeShone Kizer.
"It's right there, you can scoot on in. It's a freebie," Williams said. "You gotta take it when you can."
Baltimore controls its own playoff fate heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. If the Ravens beat the Colts and Bengals -- who lost by a combined score of 59-20 this week -- they will clinch a playoff berth.
"Every game is a playoff game from here on out and we want to win," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "We want to be in the real playoff dance, but right now, we’re in the playoffs every week. We’ve got to win. Right now, we’re 1-0 in the playoffs."