AFC North Round-Up; NFL’s Top Rivalry Highlights the Week
The gleam may be off the National Football League’s most intense rivalry but that doesn’t eliminate the importance of tonight’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Gone are some of the rivalry’s top instigators in Hines Ward who is retired and Ray Lewis who is out with injury. Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger is out as are Ravens’ cornerbacks Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.
The importance of the game is as significant as always with the Ravens holding a one-game lead over the Steelers. A win by Baltimore would be huge considering the Steelers may be without Roethlisberger until late December. A win by the Steelers pulls things even with six games to go. Either way, I expect a slug-fest.
The Standings: Baltimore 7-2, Pittsburgh 6-3, Cincinnati 4-5, Cleveland 2-7
Cleveland (+8) at Dallas – The Browns are 0-4 on the road and make their first trip to ‘Jerry World’ today against a Cowboys’ team that may have found its’ stride last week in a big win at Philadelphia. In order for the Browns to have a shot today in Big D, they’ll need to force Tony Romo into mistakes and then take advantage of those mistakes with touchdowns.
The problem for Cleveland will be finding ways to keep Brandon Weeden upright against a very good Dallas pass rush led by DeMarcus Ware. They can off-set that pressure by getting Trent Richardson going early. If the running game can be productive then that gives the Browns a chance. Unfortunately, I just don’t see it happening. I like the Cowboys to win big.
Cincinnati (-3 1/2) at Kansas City – After watching what the Chiefs did in Pittsburgh on Monday night I really believe they should win this game. They’re at home and quite frankly, they outplayed the Steelers in just about every facet of the game. The Bengals meanwhile are coming off a tough loss to Denver at home and again find themselves in a must-win position with Pittsburgh and Baltimore ready to stretch the division lead.
The issue in this one could be the quarterbacks. Andy Dalton looked a little better last week than he had in previous weeks and Matt Cassel played valiantly before throwing a bad pick in overtime. I fully expect the Chiefs to return to what worked last week against the Steelers which means lots of Jamaal Charles in order to set up Cassel, or maybe Brady Quinn if he’s cleared to play, for play-action passing. Common sense tells me to take the Bengals. The Chiefs are out of playoff contention for all intents and purposes and have to be stinging from that loss, but I’m not convinced this Bengals’ team is as tough as last year. Take the Chiefs today in KC.
Baltimore (-3 1/2) at Pittsburgh – Isn’t it crazy how one injury can alter a line? This one went from the Steelers -4 to the current line in the seconds after Ben Roethlisberger was declared ‘out’ for tonight. That’s pro football these days though. Both teams are dealing with injuries however and to several key players. Besides Roethlisberger, they are without Antonio Brown and Troy Polamalu. Baltimore is still without Ray Lewis, Ladarius Webb and lost Jimmy Smith mid-week to hernia surgery.
What the injuries say to me is “look at who is left” and when I do, it favors the Ravens. Roethlisberger and Brown are arguably the Steelers two best offensive players and Brown’s absence was very apparent last week as receivers struggled to get open. The Ravens’ two best offensive guys are QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice. As long as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron doesn’t get ‘pass happy’ and forget he has Rice, the Ravens should be able to wear down the Steelers’ defense in a tight game. I like the Ravens to cover, but just barely.