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AFC North; Big Tests for Steelers, Bengals


Can the Steelers' O-line give Roethlisberger the time he needs today?

The American Football Conference of the National Football League is not the dominant entity it once was. In recent weeks, the Baltimore Ravens looked like world-beaters one week and anyting but the next. Cleveland has been competetive in nearly every game and has now won two out of three. The Steelers have suffered through injuries and poor performances against lesser opponents but find themselves just a game behind the Ravens now. As for the Bengals, they started out fairly strong but have struggled of late losing their last three. The season is now at the mid-way point and there is still much to be decided, especially in the AFC North.

The Standings: Baltimore 5-2, Pittsburgh 4-3, Cincinnati 3-4, Cleveland 2-6

The games this week…

Pittsburgh (+3 1/2)  at New York – These two teams have each won two Super Bowl titles dating back to 2005 and headed by quarterbacks who were part of the 2004 NFL Draft class. The shame of NFL scheduling is that Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have only played against each other twice in eight years. They have each won one game. This game will no doubt fall on the shoulders of both QBs but there are other factors.

Pittsburgh will more than likely be without Jonathan Dwyer who has rushed for 100 yards plus in each of the last two games as he is listed as doubtful with a leg issue. That means Isaac Redman will get the start and this is a guy who hasn’t played in the last few weeks with injuries of his own. The Steelers cannot afford to be one-dimensional against the best front four in the league. Look for the Giants to attack rookie right tackle Mike Adams early and often.

This is a big game for both teams but especially the Steelers who need a signature win. Football players and coaches are creatures of habit and with the Steelers being forced to travel and play on the same day, I don’t like that factor at all. Injuries in the Steelers’ secondary could also be a factor as Ryan Clark comes off a concussion. I like the Giants to win out-right here with a late touchdown.

Marvin Lewis

Lewis needs a win against a surging Denver.

Denver (-4) at Cincinnati – It was a couple of weeks ago that the Bengals were 3-1 and playing good football. Then losses to the Dolphins, Steelers and Browns put an end to that. A couple of weeks ago, the Broncos trailed San Diego 24-0 in San Diego before storming back for the win and have looked great since.

Peyton Manning is clicking right now and Andy Dalton is anything but. The Bengals struggle on defense mightily and need Dalton to have a huge game, but the Broncos’ defense has improved each week and will look to feast on the Bengals struggling offense. The whoile M.O. for Cincinnati is right on script under Marvin Lewis. Every time they have a good year, they follow it up with a bad one. I really like Denver big in this one and you should too.

Baltimore (-4) at Cleveland – The question here is, “Which Joe Flacco is going to suit up for this one?” Of late, Flacco has struggled and looked anything like the ‘elite’ QB he believes himself to be. He has to play better and one way to do that is get the ball in the hands of Ray Rice more often. Arguably one of the best in the game, Rice needs more touches and coordinator Cam Cameron must do this. The other issue for the Ravens is they will continue on without Ladarius Webb and Ray Lewis and it’s obvious the team misses both guys.

Cleveland is coming off a 7-6 win over San Diego and a strong rushing performance by rookie Trent Richardson who was thought to be about 50% entering the game. With the Ravens total lack of a run defense, I look for loads of Richardson early and often. Weather will certainly play a factor if the wind is howling off the lake like it was last week. I really, really want to take Cleveland here, but I think the Ravens’ offense gets back to basics which means lots of Ray Rice. Look for the Ravens to win outright.

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