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State of AFC North: Fight for the top; dealing from the basement

The Steelers and Ravens are both looking for a chance to end their losing streaks when they play this Sunday. The Browns still haven’t won a game, but they made an impressive move before the trade deadline.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens and Steelers spent their bye weeks getting healthy, but which team will come out victorious in a key divisional matchup? The Browns haven’t won a game yet, but they at have acquired an important piece to their future. Could the Cowboys be heading into a trap game against Cleveland? It’s possible.

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) at Baltimore Ravens (3-4): Sunday, November 6, 1:00 p.m. ET

Key Baltimore defenders return to field

It has been a long five weeks for the Ravens. They rode a four game losing streak into their bye week, but they will be returning several players in Week 9. Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Marshal Yanda, Shareece Wright and Lardarius Webb all participated in practice this week.

Defensively, the Ravens will need all hands on deck. The Steelers have all the weapons you could need on offense, and there is a possibility that Ben Roethlisberger could return his week as well.

Steve Smith Sr. and Elvis Dumervil both missed practices leading up to this game. Smith hasn’t played since exiting early in the Washington game. Dumervil has only played in two games after getting foot surgery in the offseason.

Ben Roethlisberger expected to play

Most of the talk for both the Ravens and Steelers during the bye was focused around whether Roethlisberger would suit up for their game in Week 9. A lot of players said they wouldn’t be surprised to see Roethlisberger out there. Reports came out that Roethlisberger was taking first team snaps and practicing on a limited basis this week. He has also been seen jogging around at practice.

Really you should be shocked if Roethlisberger isn’t out there on Sunday. He already missed the most important conference game of the Steelers’ season when he watched the Patriots pull out the win. He isn’t going to miss a divisional game that could give the Steelers a comfortable lead from the Bengals and Ravens.

What will be interesting is how limited Roethlisberger will be physically. If he can’t move up or out the pocket that could hurt the Steelers offense. Still, having Roethlisberger makes defenses more honest.

Something has to give in

Both of these teams stumbled into their bye weeks. The Steelers lost two games in a row, and the Ravens lost four straight after winning their first three. One of their streaks will end this week with a spot at the top of the division on the line.

Whether or not Roethlisberger plays, the Ravens should expect a lot of Le’Veon Bell from the Steelers. Roethlisberger likely won’t be 100% so they will look to limit the amount of hits on him by handing the ball off to Bell. Bell has also been very involved out of the backfield. Bell already has 30 catches in just four games for the Steelers. Baltimore does have the fourth ranked rushing defense. They hold opponents to under four yards per carry. Whoever wins that matchup could end up with the win.

Baltimore has also struggled pressuring quarterbacks all season long. Suggs will play, but after injuring his arm he will be playing with an elbow brace. Still, his return could spark the defense. The Steelers haven’t been bad in protection, but keeping their attack balanced and mixing in screens and short passes will help keep whoever the Steelers have at quarterback upright.

Cleveland Browns (0-8) vs Dallas Cowboys (6-1): Sunday, November 6, 1:00 p.m. ET

Cleveland acquires Jamie Collins

The Browns are (0-8) and (0-16) is very real at this point. They don’t have much of a shot at changing that this week against the Cowboys who have only lost one game this season, but they may have made a franchise altering move.

The Browns traded a compensatory third round pick for Pro Bowler Jamie Collins. Collins was viewed as one of the Patriots best defenders so the trade was pretty shocking. Collins isn’t the typical 3-4 outside linebacker. He plays coverage very well and is in every sense a hybrid player at the position.

Collins is in his last year of his contract, and he wasn’t going to be retained after the season because his price tag was too steep for New England. There have also been reports that Collins has a problem with freelancing and ignoring play calls. The Browns may not be able to retain Collins, but you won’t find too many players like Collins in the third round, and the Browns have so many draft picks at this point due to trades. So, the risk is minimal.

The Browns have an easy quarterback decision

Leading up to their game with the Cowboys, the Browns don’t want to give away who will be starting under center. Cody Kessler was cleared from the concussion protocol on Monday. Josh McCown played pretty well last week against the Jets. The decision isn’t hard though. The Browns should and will start Kessler. Kessler is a rookie drafted by this regime. They will play him to see what they have in him. Kessler actually played really well when he was healthy. He did this despite not having first round pick, Corey Coleman, who is returning this week.

McCown is a great veteran player to have. He’d do anything he could to stay out on that field, and maybe if the Browns were in playoff contention he’d get the nod. However, at (0-8) there isn’t a whole lot of reason to play a veteran like McCown who may only be fractionally better than a rookie like Kessler.