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State of AFC North: Steelers short handed for key game; Flacco injured; Battle of Ohio on deck

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This should be an interesting week in the AFC North.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC North is licking its wounds after last week when everyone lost. The Browns are hoping to parlay Hue Jackson’s knowledge of the Bengals into their first win of the season. Though, the Bengals will be doing everything in their power to avoid that happening. Baltimore is hoping it can overcome injuries against the Jets after playing the other New York team last week. The Steelers will be without Ben Roethlisberger for an important matchup with the Patriots, but how long will Big Ben be out? That’s up for debate.

Baltimore Ravens (3-3) at New York Jets (1-5): Sunday, October 23, 1:00 p.m. ET

Joe Flacco shows up on the injury report

It is always unsettling when the quarterback of a team shows up on the injury report. It is even worse when the same quarterback misses two practices. Joe Flacco is dealing with a shoulder injury, and it is looking like it could be serious enough to at least limit him on Sunday.

Flacco has reassured fans that it isn’t serious, and John Harbaugh said that Flacco doesn’t need to practice to play on Sunday, but it is still alarming and something to monitor.

The rest of the Ravens aren’t faring well either. Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Steve Smith Sr., Devin Hester, Marshal Yanda and C.J. Mosley all missed practices this week.

The Ravens did get Ronnie Stanley back, and he will likely return after missing the past three games. A huge gain for the Ravens offensive line. Especially when the Ravens are about to go up against the Jets fearsome front seven.

Here are the final injury reports for both teams.

RAVENS

OUT: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh)

DOUBTFUL: S Kendrick Lewis (thigh), WR Steve Smith Sr. (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (biceps), CB Shareece Wright (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

QUESTIONABLE: WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), QB Joe Flacco (shoulder), KR Devin Hester (thigh), CB Jerraud Powers (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (concussion), T Ronnie Stanley (foot)

JETS

OUT: TE Braedon Bowman (knee), LB Darron Lee (ankle), OL Brent Qvale (neck), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ankle)

QUESTIONABLE: T Ryan Clady (shoulder), C Nick Mangold (knee), DL Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle)

Ravens may not be good enough to end their streak of close games

The Ravens haven’t played in a game decided by more than eight points this season. That is mostly bad news. The Ravens have failed to put teams away the past three games. In three games, if they made a few more plays it could’ve easily gone their way. The fact is though, the Ravens made too many errors in those games to pull out a win. Whether it was turnover, special teams mistakes or poor play calling, the Ravens have managed to find ways to lose.

The Ravens could be in store for another close one on Sunday, especially if Flacco can’t go or is limited. If Flacco were fully healthy he could probably rip apart a Jets’ secondary that has given up big plays all season long, but if Flacco can’t air it out, it plays right into the Jets’ hands.

The one thing that could play out in the Ravens favor in a close game is the Jets starting Geno Smith. If it comes down to the last drive for the Jets, Smith is likely to make that fatal mistake in his first start of the year, instead of the Ravens.

Cleveland Browns (0-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-4): Sunday, October 23, 1:00 p.m. ET

Cleveland hopes to have Pryor and Haden back Sunday

Last week Joe Haden was a late addition to the injury report, but the team was optimistic he could go Sunday. He did not. They are now holding out hope that Terrelle Pryor and Haden can play despite neither practicing on Wednesday or Thursday and only Pryor practicing in a limited fashion on Friday. Joe Thomas will play after missing Wednesday and Thursday but practicing in full on Friday.

Pryor has easily been the most productive offensive player for Cleveland this season, so if he can’t go, the Browns’ top wide receiver would be former Bengals receiver Andrew Hawkins.

The Browns offensive line has struggled this season. It’s the reason they’ve had so many quarterbacks play, as they can’t protect their leader. I personally can’t wait for Geno Atkins to blow up Cameron Erving routinely.

Haden has had success against A.J. Green, but he hasn’t been the same player for awhile and didn’t play in either Battle of Ohio in 2015. Still, the Browns defense has been bad this year, and losing Haden, who’s doubtful, isn’t going to make it better.

Here are the final injury reports for both teams.

BROWNS

OUT: DE Marcus Burley (hamstring), WR Corey Coleman (hand), TE Seth DeValve (knee), QB Josh McCown (shoulder)

DOUBTFUL: CB Joe Haden (groin)

QUESTIONABLE: WR Terrelle Pryor (hamstring), DL Xavier Cooper (shoulder), TE Randall Telfer (ankle)

BENGALS

QUESTIONABLE: TE Tyler Eifert (back/ankle)

How big is Hue Jackson’s impact?

The Bengals handle coaching changes differently than a lot of teams. They often promote from within and keep the same system in tact. That is great as far as the teams from having to learn a new system, but it creates a situation like this where a former coach knows preferences and plays. It wouldn’t be surprising if Jackson could call out a few, if not most of the plays the Bengals run.

Ken Zampese runs the offense different than Jackson did, so it isn’t like it’s exactly the same. Still, Jackson knows the Bengals offensive personnel’s strengths and weaknesses.

A popular example of a former coach coming back against his former team was seen in Super Bowl XXXVII. Jon Gruden led Tampa Bay to a huge win over Oakland, who had traded him during the offseason. Gruden used all of his knowledge to essentially tell the Buccaneer defense what was coming.

The key difference from that and Sunday is the Browns’ defense isn’t close to the same level of the Buccaneers. The Browns have struggled stopping teams from doing whatever they want, and that isn’t going to change on Sunday.

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) vs New England Patriots (5-1): Sunday, October 23, 4:25 p.m. ET

Steelers short handed for the Patriots

Before last week, the importance of this game as far as playoff seeding in the AFC goes was clear. Now the Patriots, currently number one, and the Steelers, number three, are set to play for a game that could determine who gets a bye and home field advantage in the playoffs.

The Steelers are going into the game short handed. Obviously they are without Roethlisberger, but the Steelers will also be missing more players as Cameron Heyward. Marcus Gilbert, Cody Wallace, Markus Wheaton and DeAngelo Williams all missed practices this week and are all out for Sunday. That’s a lot of key players to have injured at once.

The Steelers need all hands on deck on offense without Roethlisberger. Any loss on that side is magnified as Landry Jones isn’t good enough to cover those losses like Roethlisberger.

Defensively, the Steelers get a boost as Ryan Shazier, Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden all returned to practice in a full capacity. Shazier hasn’t played since leaving during Pittsburgh’s Week 3 loss to the Eagles.

The Steelers have a lot on the line this week, but, the injury bug is biting at the wrong time.

Here are the final injury reports for both teams.

PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle), RB Brandon Bolden (knee), LB Jamie Collins (hip), WR Julian Edelman (foot), DL Woodrow Hamilton (shoulder) LB Shea McClellin (concussion), WR Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring) LB Elandon Roberts (ankle), DL Vincent Valentine (back)

STEELERS

OUT: T Marcus Gilbert (ankle), DE Cameron Heyward (hamstring), QB Ben Roethlisberger (left Knee), S Shamarko Thomas (groin), C Cody Wallace (knee), WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder), RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)

Roethlisberger’s timetable for return up in the air

Originally, reports were optimistic that Roethlisberger would only miss two to three weeks recovering from surgery repairing his torn meniscus, including a bye week in that span. But things have changed following the surgeon cutting open Big Ben’s knee. The window has opened wider to four to six weeks, which could have a large impact on the Steelers’ season. Once the surgery began, the doctor reportedly noticed additional damage remaining from Roethlisberger’s 2015 knee injury and needed to do additional clean up work than was planned.

The Steelers have a bye after this week, but afterwards they play the Ravens who aren’t far behind in the AFC North standings. If Roethlisberger misses that game as well, which seems highly possible now, it could set Pitsburgh back quite a bit.

Assuming he misses the full six weeks, Roethlisberger would miss games against the Cowboys, Browns and Colts. The last two being far more winnable, but still without Roethlisberger nothing is certain for this team.

It also needs to be reiterated that these injuries seem to be piling up for Roethlisberger. It is a harsh reminder to Steelers fans that he probably won’t be around as long as many hoped for.

Assuming the Steelers lose this week to the Patriots and the Bengals beat the Browns, Cincinnati could be just 1.5 games out of first place in the division. But, that’s assuming more than we should be, considering how things have played out six weeks into the year.

What are your AFC North predictions for Week 7?