We are all looking forward to watching the Bengals dismantle the Chargers on Sunday, but while the Bengals are trying to beat San Diego, the rest of the AFC North teams will be in a battle of their own.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore 4:25 PM ET (CBS)
In a rematch from two weeks ago, the Steelers will once again be without Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers will likely start Charlie Batch and the newly signed Brian Hoyer will back Batch up. While many, including myself, expected Roethlisberger to ride in on a white horse to save his Steelers, head coach Mike Tomlin has already ruled him out for Sunday. The good news for Pittsburgh is that receiver Antonio Brown is expected to return this week after missing three games with an ankle injury. Brown will provide Batch with another weapon, provided Batch can get Brown the football. The Steelers turned the ball over eight times in Cleveland last Sunday. Yet they only lost by six points. It goes without saying that Pittsburgh cannot do that against Baltimore and expect to keep the game close.
The Ravens can win the division on Sunday if they can beat the Steelers and Philip Rivers and the Chargers can knock off the Bengals. While the Ravens are playing for a first round playoff bye, they have not been particularly impressive lately. It took a miracle fourth-and-29 play made by Ray Rice to send the game into overtime and eventually give the Ravens a victory. The Ravens defense has been playing well during their four game winning streak, only allowing slightly over 14 points per game. Joe Flacco is likely excited to be heading back home to Baltimore, as he has won 16 straight games at home. The last time Flacco lost at home? December 5, 2010, against the Steelers.
The Steelers are going to need to make some big plays on defense if they are going to have a shot to walk out of M&T Bank Stadium with a victory. This is certainly a possibility, as Pittsburgh leads the AFC in scoring defense and leads the NFL in total defense. The Steelers are also expected to get Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu back. He has not played since week five after suffering a calf injury. The running game will also be crucial for the Steelers. Jonathan Dwyer will likely start this week in place of Rashard Mendenhall.
Cleveland at Oakland 4:25 ET (CBS)
The Raiders are coming off a thrashing in Cincinnati, and Carson Palmer is currently questionable to play. While Palmer likely will take the field, catching a glimpse of former Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor would certainly be interesting. Who will Bengals fans root for in this game? While I cannot stand the Browns, it makes more sense to some to root for them. A Browns win moves them down the draft order and also moves the Bengals pick from the Raiders higher. The Browns are looking for their second win in a row, something they have not accomplished since September of last season.
Weather forecasters are expecting a lot of rain and 26 mile-an-hour winds during the game. This likely means that the Browns will rely heavily on rookie first round pick Trent Richardson, who has had a solid rookie campaign. As we saw last Sunday, the Raiders have some trouble stopping the run. So, it would probably be beneficial to start Richardson if you have him in your fantasy league. The Raiders will likely be getting running back Darren McFadden back against the Browns, which will certainly open up some chances for Palmer and the Raiders to take some shots down-field.
Palmer's top target is the speedy Denarius Moore, who will likely be matched up with top corner Joe Haden. If the Browns are expecting to come out of the Black Hole with a win, they will need to limit the big plays that Oakland creates. After Oakland, the Browns go home to face Kansas City and Washington. The Browns could end up winning three or four games in a row if they can beat Oakland. That would be important for Cleveland,as they head into an off-season that is unclear at best.