AFC North Round-Up; Ravens Look to Extend Lead
Last week we saw the Baltimore Ravens get outplayed by the Pittsburgh Steelers for much of the game but still came away with a 13-10 win and control of the AFC North. The Ravens got two turnovers and turned them into six points and a punt return by Jacoby Jones which turned out to be the difference. Cincinnati scored an impressive win over Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium by the score of 28-6. It was a much-needed win by the Bengals who needed it to stay alive in the North. Cleveland went down to Dallas and dominated the Cowboys for most of the game before giving up the lead late and losing in overtime. The loss was the epitome of the Browns’ season as they have played tough every week yet have just two wins in ten tries.
The Standings: Baltimore 8-2, Pittsburgh 6-4, Cincinnati 5-5, Cleveland 2-8
The games this week
Pittsburgh (-1.5) at Cleveland – Pittsburgh finds itself in a difficult position once again with a quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger. Last week, Byron Leftwich got the start and scored on just the third play of the game but suffered a severe rib injury and is out for this game. Enter old reliable Charlie Batch who gets the start and will be expected to play well and deliver a victory for the Steelers.
The Browns come off a tough loss to Dallas in which they put Tony Romo under a ton of pressure throughout the game. They will need to do the same today against Batch and force the veteran to be uncomfortable in the pocket. QB Brandon Weeden continues to improve each week without having too much to work with offensively. Trent Richardson ran for 95 yards against Dallas but it came on 28 carries. The Steelers top-ranked defense will be a challenge for him as they will look to put the game on Weeden’s shoulders.
With a trip to Baltimore next week, Pittsburgh cannot afford a loss. I look for them to return to a shorter passing game and more running with Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall. If Cleveland can get big plays on special teams and create turnovers they have a shot, but I like the Steelers to win by a field goal in Cleveland.
Oakland (+9) at Cincinnati – The Bengals will be keeping an eye on the Pittsburgh-Cleveland game hoping for a Browns’ victory which coupled with a win over Oakland would give them a share of second place with a game remaining against the Steelers. The Bengals do have business to handle first though with the Raiders coming to town.
The Oakland running game is essentially non-existent and Carson Palmer will be relied on heavily to give the Raiders a chacne for victory. The problem is that Palmer is also good for a couple of turnovers per game as well which should bode well for the Bengals. Andy Dalton has been heating up especially to A.J. Green in the last two weeks and will more than likely target him a bunch today in the Queen City. I like the Bengals to cover today with a solid win over Oakland.
Baltimore (-1) at San Diego – The Chargers enter this game at 4-6 and are anything but solid right now. The Ravens will need to guard against a hangover following another big win over rival Pittsburgh. I still think the Ravens don’t get the ball to Ray Rice enough but they should today. With Philip Rivers turning the ball over at an alarming rate, everything about this game tells me Baltimore should win big and return home for the Steelers. Strangely enough though, this is usually where the Chargers start actually playing for their lives and I have a suspicion they will get a close win over the Ravens.