Each AFC North team is gearing up for Week 1. The Browns are hoping they were right about Carson Wentz, and that he won’t scorch them to start off his NFL career. Baltimore is welcoming back one of their favorite backup quarterbacks. Pittsburgh will have one of the most talked about player vs player matchups, but how much of an impact will it have on their game?
Baltimore Ravens vs Buffalo Bills: Sunday, September 11, 1:00 p.m. ET
It was announced Wednesday that the Ravens will start off their 2016 campaign without one of their better pass rushers. Dumervil will miss the opener due to a ‘minor setback’ in his recovery from his offseason injury.
I’m sure this is scary to many Ravens fans who might start having flashbacks to players dropping like flies last season. Still it is just a part of the NFL where players’ bodies will naturally get dinged up.
Another notable player not participating in practice was newly acquired nickel corner, Jerraud Powers. Powers sat out practice with an ankle injury and considered day to day.
Taylor started his NFL career in Baltimore backing up Joe Flacco. He spent four years on the bench waiting for his chance, and that chance came last year when he was able to sign with the Bills to compete for the starting job he obviously won. John Harbaugh was a big fan of Taylor’s.
"There were times when I was hoping we could find a way to trade him and get something back of value," Harbaugh told ESPN. "That never materialized. It usually doesn't, so it was a hope on my part. But I felt like there was no question in my mind he was going to be a starter."
Taylor’s performance is probably the biggest key to the game for both sides. The Bills will look to get him comfortable and out of the pocket. The Ravens however will be looking to keep him in the pocket and pressured all day. Being without Dumervil will hurt the Ravens in that aspect, but they have several young players ready to go.
Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles: Sunday, September 11, 1:00 p.m. ET
We as Bengal’s fans probably know Hue Jackson’s mindset a little better than most people. A very clear and direct man who will let it be known if his standards aren’t met. Almost immediately after the Browns went to Wentz’s pro day, they decided to sign Robert Griffin III and then traded the second overall pick soon thereafter.
The message was clear then. Jackson didn’t think Wentz had it, and the Browns moved quickly to remove themselves from tying their buggy to the Wentz horse. Now the man the Browns didn’t believe in gets a chance to prove them wrong in his first NFL game.
It didn’t happen the way the Eagles thought it would. They wanted to sit Wentz and let him learn from the bench while Sam Bradford went out there and tried to audition for another team. However, the Eagles were made an offer they couldn’t refuse from the Vikings. Now it is Wentz’s show.
Wentz could play pretty well against a defense that, outside of Joe Haden (and sometimes including Haden) can have the ball easily moved on them. The Browns defense was bad last season, and it has only lost good players, while gaining few players with experience. While they have gone younger, young players are more likely to make mistakes. If Wentz is any good, he will be able to show it on Sunday.
Isaiah Crowell recently announced his goal of reaching 1,000 rushing yards this season. Jackson, who has never been shy about supporting hyperbole, asked “why not more?” The plan of attack for this offense all season will be based around Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. in the backfield. The Browns offensive line has proven it can’t protect Griffin consistently, and the best way to help protect a quarterback with a bad line is to run the ball.
The Eagles ended last season giving up 134.6 rushing yards per game (worst in the league). If the Browns were ever going to be able to get their running game going it will be against the Eagles. If Crowell gets a good amount of carries he could end the game with a nice start on that 1,000 yard goal.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington: Monday, September 12, 7:10 p.m. ET
Antonio Brown is arguably the best receiver in the league, and when Pittsburgh plays Washington, Brown will go up against former Carolina Panther, Josh Norman, arguably one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Last season Norman became very outspoken about his play, and it really put him on the map. On Monday night, it is likely this matchup that will be talked about early and often. Expect overkill on breaking down every pass that goes near that pair. Considering how much Ben Roethlisberger targets Brown, that will be a huge key for the Steelers. If Pittsburgh can’t move the ball with Brown, it will really hurt them as they will be playing without Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell who are both serving suspensions.
A bigger key to the game is whether Pittsburgh’s secondary can slow down Washington’s passing attack led by Kirk Cousins. This will show us a lot about how good this secondary is, but a team that had to trade for Justin Gilbert probably isn’t too happy with their pass defense. However, this will give them a chance to prove they’re better than people give them credit for, or they’ll prove doubters wrong. At least for this week.
The very talented David DeCastro has received a new six-year contract extension from the Steelers, running through 2021. DeCastro , like Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler, was set to become a free agent after this season. The extension is reportedly worth $50 million, bringing his total salary for the next six years to about $58 million. DeCastro has been the Steelers starting guard every game since 2014.
The Steelers clearly didn’t want DeCastro to even sniff free agency. Both the Bengals and Steelers exercised their 2012 first round draft picks’ fifth year options this offseason, and it will be interesting to see which All-Pro guard will make more going forward considering the two were drafted so closely. Many Bengals fans were hoping to see Zeitler extended before the start to the season but it looks like we’ll need to wait until next year to see if Zeitler is re-signed or if he becomes a free agent in 2017.