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Around the AFC North: Divisional showdowns

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What will be some of the keys to each of the divisional games for the rest of the AFC North.

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens

This week is a special one for the AFC North. We will see the top two teams in the division duke it out on Sunday, and the bottom two teams will fight for the scraps in primetime as both winless teams will try to get out of last place.

Let’s get caught up on what’s happening around the AFC North!

Baltimore Ravens (2-1) vs. Cleveland Browns (1-2)

The Ravens and Browns have had pretty different trajectories so far this season. The Ravens have looked like the team to beat in the AFC North. Behind quarterback Lamar Jackson, Baltimore’s offense has been one of the best in the NFL. It has slowed down a bit since its crazy hot start (thanks, Miami). Last week it took them until the second half to make it close with the Chiefs, but they are still the top ranked offense in terms of yards and points per game.

This game could come down to whether the Browns’ defense has another spirited performance in them. Last week they held the Rams to 20 points in a loss, but they will have to keep the Ravens in that same range. Cleveland has the 16th ranked scoring defense, but the reason they need to play above that level is because of their own offense.

The Browns offense has been hasn’t been as advertised. They are the 28th ranked scoring defense with only 16.3 points per game. You can place the blame on head coach Freddie Kitchens poor play calling, Baker Mayfield’s struggles (completing under 60 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and five interceptions) or the offensive line failing to be as good as it was across the board at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, the Ravens defense has been one of the best units in the NFL. They are the 10th ranked scoring defense coming into Week 4. They couldn’t hold the Chiefs under 30 points last week, but the Browns aren’t even in the same solar system as Kansas City.

The duel between Jackson and Mayfield will probably decide this game along with the games between these teams for the foreseeable future. Jackson has looked sharper this year.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3)

As you would expect from two winless teams, both the Bengals and Steelers have struggled mightily to close games out. Bengals fans are well aware of their own team finding all sorts pf ways to lose football games, but the Steelers have gone about it slightly different.

After getting whooped by New England in Week 1, the Steelers have fought some pretty close battles the past two weeks against familiar foes for Cincinnati fans. Most recently they lost a close game against the 49ers where they had no business being in. The 49ers had a number of boneheaded turnovers that took place either in scoring range or set up scores for the Steelers.

Pittsburgh’s offense just hasn’t had that same imposing presence as previous seasons. James Conner only has 97 rushing yards on the season after being one of the more dominant runners in Le’Veon Bell’s absence last season. Mason Rudolph looks like a young quarterback. He has plenty of ups and downs, and it doesn’t help he is surrounded by an extremely young skill position group.

What has been most surprising about the Steelers’ offensive struggles has been their offensive line. That was one of the team’s biggest reasons for their consistent offensive success. They could constantly create holes and give the quarterback forever to go through his reads. That just hasn’t been there this season.

As for Pittsburgh’s defense, you can expect players like T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt and now Minkah Fitzpatrick to play big roles on Monday night, but there are plenty of holes to exploit. Devin Bush has been going through some growing pains as the Steelers’ middle linebacker, and Pittsburgh has barely been able to slow down opposing teams from throwing the ball.

Can the Bengals best this team that is a shadow of what the Steelers used to be? It would be quite the statement to make under the lights.