We take a look at the state of the AFC North heading into Week 6.
Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers: Sunday 4:25 P.M. EST
After the Ravens last outing against the Browns it was obvious that after Justin Forsett left with an injury, there just wasn't anything left on offense for the Ravens. Steve Smith Sr. and Crockett Gillmore returning to practice, on a limited basis, hopefully points toward at least one of them being an option for Joe Flacco on Sunday. Forsett still not practicing isn't a great sign for his availability against a great run defense in the 49ers.
In all four of their losses there has been one common theme, too many penalties. It is hard enough to win games in the NFL, especially when you're as banged up as the Ravens, but when you add in how often the Ravens give their opponents yards it makes it impossible. In the Ravens only win though, they only committed four penalties for 30 yards, and in their losses they average almost 10 penalties for 84.5 yards. The formula for success is obvious, play smart and focused.
At 1-4 the odds of a team making the playoffs are less than 20 percent. At 1-5 it would take more than a few miracles to reach the postseason, especially with the division leader at 5-0. After beating the Steelers on Thursday night in Week 4, it looked like the Ravens had the ability to reach .500 with a long week to prepare for the Browns and then a trip to the struggling 49ers. But, they've let games slip away, like last week's loss to the Browns. If they let that happen again Sunday against the 49ers, they might as well pack up and get ready for next season.
Cleveland Browns vs Denver Broncos: 1:00 P.M. EST
Scott Solomon's injury thins out an already thin linebacking core for the Browns. The injury leaves the Browns with four linebackers on their active roster. Joe Haden has been a game time decision for two weeks now, and even though he played last week, by not practicing Thursday it looks like he may sit out against the Broncos this week. Tashaun Gipson didn't play last week and unless he practices Friday it doesn't look like he'll be available either. It isn't a great time for Cleveland's defense to be thinning out.
Robert Turbin's long awaited debut for the Browns will come Sunday against the Broncos. Hopefully no one reads too much into his performance against the Broncos defense, which ranks first in yards allowed and gives up 3.7 yards per attempt, which is third best in the league. If the Browns hope to upset the undefeated Broncos though the key could be the Browns creating something on the ground to slow down the pass rush of Denver.
The Browns have had six shots at Manning throughout his career. They have never beaten him. This is a different Manning though. This season, Manning has looked like a shell of the offensive juggernaut we are used to. He has routinely under thrown receivers, and has just made mistakes we aren't use to seeing from Manning. This Denver team, however, doesn't have to rely on Manning like it has since he arrived. Instead they come in having the second best scoring defense (15.8 points per game), which has also scored in three of their five games and had a fumble recovery to end the Vikings game. Manning has been put in a position he could've only dreamed of a few years ago, and that is having one of the best defenses suited up opposite him. If the Browns can create some turnovers off of Manning though, and limit their own, they could pull off an upset few see coming.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Arizona Cardinals: 1:00 P.M. EST
Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice on a limited basis. While it is extremely doubtful he plays this week, it is a good sign that he is closer to the four week mark rather than the six. The Steelers probably wish that Roethlisberger was playing against former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals coming to Pittsburgh on Sunday. Luckily for the Steelers, they should finally have Ryan Shazier back after missing two games. Jarvis Jones looks like he should be available as well after returning to the practice field after missing Wednesday's. Both will be important in pressuring Carson Palmer, who has been having a stellar career so far, and containing Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson who have been vital for this outstanding Cardinals offense.
Maurkice Pouncey was placed on Injured Reserve with the designation to return in the preseason. This meant he could return to the team's active roster in Week 8. But, after an infection was discovered following his initial ankle surgery, he will undergo another surgery to correct the situation. Some have speculated this could cost Pouncey the rest of this season. If he does miss extended time the Steelers will have to hope his replacement, Cody Wallace, can improve as he has struggled to produce in the running and passing game.
The NFL fined Cameron Heyward $5,787 for writing "Iron Head" on his eye black, honoring his father who passed away from cancer. This comes days after the story of the NFL denying DeAngelo Williams his request to wear pink for the full season to pay tribute to his mother and aunts, who also passed away from breast cancer. We get what the NFL is trying to do from a logistic standpoint, if they let one guy do it, where does it stop? However, how does someone writing words on their eye black warrant almost $6,000 in fines? That is absolutely insane for something that a vast majority of people would never notice. For a league that has consistently made poor moves in regards to player decisions, they seem to be trying to continue that bad decision making. Limiting celebrations and uniform choices aren't exactly what the fans are hoping the shield will protect.