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State of AFC North: Browns are no match; Life after Bell

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Baltimore is spending their bye week searching for answers offensively. Cleveland nearly shoots themselves in the foot with a trade at the deadline. Pittsburgh prepare for the Raiders without Bell with what looks to be fully healthy defense.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

We run through Week 9 in the AFC North which featured a matchup between the Bengals and Browns, a bye week for the Ravens and a Steelers vs Raiders game in Pittsburgh.

The Cleveland Browns (2-7) lose to the Cincinnati Bengals (8-0), 31-10

Browns can't keep up with Bengals

The main story many people are running with after the Browns' loss to the Bengals, on Thursday night, is that the Browns couldn't get it done in the second half. Personally I think the answer is far more obvious. The Bengals are just a far more talented team than the Browns, especially offensively. Marvin Jones would probably be the top target for Cleveland if he played for the Browns, but on the Bengals he usually fluctuates between the second to fourth option. People may criticize Johnny Manziel for failing to show up in the second half, but when your best option on offense is Gary Barnidge, what can you really expect? The Browns were out matched the entire second half as they failed to move the ball offensively, and couldn't stop Andy Dalton from picking apart the Browns' hobbled secondary, especially Tyler Eifert who had three touchdowns.

Browns almost trade away one of their best players

The Browns talked a big talk, but in the end failed to deal any of their big name assets. They did come close though. A last minute deal to send Joe Thomas and a pick to the Broncos for a first and second round selection almost beat the clock, but the two sides couldn't get it to work on time. The deal obviously would've been a huge move for the Broncos who are trying to keep pace with the Patriots and Bengals, but the move could've blown up in the Browns' face. Getting a first and second round pick for a 30-year-old tackle with three more years left on his deal, after this season, sounds good in theory, but when you examine it closer the Browns dodged a bullet. First of all losing Thomas would've been a huge blow to team morale and a clear sign of giving up on the season, but also the actual value of Denver's picks would probably be lessened by the fact they'd be late round selections. Also I don't have to bring up how poorly the Browns have handled draft picks as of late, excluding last season because it is too soon to tell. At the end of the day it is probably more important to have one of the best tackles in football rather than a few more disappointing players next year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) play the Oakland Raiders (4-3): Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST

How Steelers will look without Bell

Losing Le'Veon Bell changes the entire Pittsburgh offense. Not in how it runs, but how effective it is. DeAngelo Williams will fill in admirably for Bell, but he isn't the same threat. He doesn't draw the attention that Bell has grown accustomed to. However, the Steelers still have one of the better wide receiver duos in Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Expect the way the Steelers open up the offense to change. Prior to Bell's injury, the Steelers would use him to open up the pass, but now the Steelers will likely use the passing game to open up the run, and make life just a little bit easier on Williams. All in all, it is hard to deny that once Ben Roethlisberger gets completely healthy, this offense will still be running at a fairly high pace.

Steelers get contributors back on defense

Pittsburgh has been slowly getting contributors back from injury on defense for the past few weeks, and it looks like this week the last of those injured players will be returning.  Will Allen and Stephon Tuitt, two defensive starters, returned as full participants to practice on Thursday. They will be joining a defense that has been playing admirably in recent weeks, and it looks like they'll need all the help they can get against the Raiders' offense on Sunday.

Baltimore Ravens (2-6) bye week

Ravens send remind they believe their kicker is best in league

The Ravens have a nice long bye week to celebrate finally breaking through and winning a close game. So why not celebrate one of the few bright spots of this Ravens team? That is obviously kicker Justin Tucker, who has become all but automatic in the kicking game. There is something impressive, knowing that once your team gets close to the opposing 30 yard line, you'll have at least three points.

Who is left for Flacco to throw to?

Steve Smith Sr. is done for the year, leaving a thin position pretty much empty. How will Joe Flacco and this offense deal with that? Expect quite a bit of Justin Forsett running the ball, but as far as receiving options go, Kamar Aiken now becomes the number one option at the wide receiver position. However, with him drawing the opposing team's best cornerback each week, it could be hard for him to see a high level of production. Expect the passing game to run through Crockett Gillmore at the tight end position. The Ravens will likely move him around the field to create as many mismatches with him as possible. Until Breshad Perriman gets on the field, which might not even happen this season, Flacco will need to earn every dollar of his huge contract.