As Week 7 kicks off, the Bengals will be watching on their couches as the rest of the AFC North plays teams that the Bengals have already or will soon play this season.
Baltimore Ravens at Arizona Cardinals: Monday 8:30 P.M. EST
Ravens dodge bullet with Kendrick Lewis injury
It was looking like the Ravens would have to add another name to injured reserve this week with Kendrick Lewis having to be helped off the field during their game against the 49ers. However, Lewis only suffered a bone bruise meaning he should only miss a few weeks at most. That still doesn't bode well for the Ravens who just got scorched by one of the worst passing offenses, the San Francisco, and they will now have to go up against one of the most potent passers in Carson Palmer and the Cardinals (284.8 yards per game passing).
Could this be the beginning of the end for John Harbaugh?
There is no doubt this season has not gone as many had expected it would go for the Ravens. However this is a coach who has proved when given a competitive roster, he can get a team to play at a high level. This year the roster has been extremely disappointing. Injuries have piled up including losing their best defensive player, Terrell Suggs, for the season. It is hard to keep a team competitive consistently in the NFL.
Steve Smith Sr. still "on schedule" to retire
With the Ravens season essentially over, Steve Smith Sr.'s decision to make this his last season has become questioned from many directions. First, and probably most obviously, since this year isn't going as planned is there a possibility that he could return for another season? Should he be traded to a contender (many who believe this is a valid question link him to Carolina)? Realistically, I don't think he is the kind of player to demand a trade and abandon a team like that, and given how things ended between him and the Panthers I don't think he is too eager to reunite with them. We probably won't know until the offseason what Smith will really do, but as of now he still feels like this season should be his last.
Cleveland Browns at St. Louis Rams: Sunday 1:00 P.M. EST
Danny Shelton struggles to adjust
The Browns' run defense is dead last in the NFL in rushing yards per game (149.8) and only better than the Chargers in rushing yards per carry (5.0). Danny Shelton, the Browns' rookie nose tackle, clearly hasn't helped the way many thought he would, yet. It might have been unfair to expect him to turn around this run defense all by himself, but what is more troubling is his ability to only play during base defense plays. This may be due to him adjusting from college to professional football, and eventually he should be able to stay on the field more often. But, in a league that is seeing more and more three wide receiver sets, defenses are forced to play nickel more often. Teams will likely continue to take advantage of this until the Browns put Shelton on the field more often. With the Rams coming to town planning to run Todd Gurley as much as possible, the Browns better hope Shelton follows through on his vow to be better sooner rather than later.
Mike Pettine's seat gets hotter by the week
It's no secret that Ray Farmer did not hire Mike Pettine. For this reason alone, any struggles by the team can be placed on Pettine as a scapegoat. Is it fair? Partially. Pettine has failed to improve a run defense that has been horrible since he arrived. He also has failed to get much out of his first round draft picks. The Browns have looked more competitive this year than their record, but they continue to lose games they should win. Nothing in Cleveland will be fixed by constant turnover at the head coach position, but Farmer might be intrigued at the possibility of hiring his own head coach.
Haden and Gipson didn't practice Thursday; Robertson missed Wednesday and was limited Thursday
With two major defensive backs still not practicing as of Thursday, neither will likely have as much of an impact on the game against the Rams, if they even play. St. Louis has the second worst passing offense in the league averaging under 200 yards passing per game. However, they average more than 100 yards rushing per game and rookie running back Todd Gurley has become the focal point of their offense since joining the team after recovering from his injury. It still isn't great to have Joe Haden still going through concussion protocol (he also has a giner injury), and Tashaun Gipson missing another practice due to his ankle injury. Tight end Rob Housler also missed Thursday's practice with a hamstring injury.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs: Sunday 1:00 P.M.
Missing players hasn't been an excuse for Steelers
The Steelers have played games without Le'Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier, and Maurkice Pouncey. Yet they are still 4-2. With Bell and Bryant returning from suspension and Roethlisberger looking to be back for Week 8, this team is looking like more and more of a threat, flying under the radar. More impressive has been how their young defense seems to have stepped up and been far better than anyone could have expected. Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree, and Cameron Heyward have combined for 8.5 of the Steelers' 17 sacks. The Steelers' ability to pressure the passer has really been the catalyst for this improved defense. It has forced offenses to rush their passes and even led to timely turnovers, including one last week against Arizona.
Shazier full participant, Tuitt didn't practice, Roethlisberger limited
Tuitt has been a major piece to the Steelers' defense so far so monitoring his status is important. The Chiefs' offense doesn't provide too much of a threat sans Jamaal Charles, and Alex Smith has been hit as often as any quarterback this season. Ryan Shazier's return will be huge in covering Travis Kelce, the Chiefs' tight end, who has become a safety valve for Smith, especially given how quickly he is pressured. While Ben Roethlisberger is a long shot to play this week, his limited practice shows he is probably going to be available for their game against the Bengals in Week 8. Roethlisberger's injury opens the door for Landry Jones to have his first start in the NFL. This might be a little bit rougher of a week for him. The Chiefs are coming off a week where they essentially shutdown Adrian Peterson, holding him to 2.3 yards per carry, which doesn't bode well for relying on Bell. Jones will need to avoid any big mistakes this week, while letting Bryant and Antonio Brown go out and win the game.