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Two Spots, Three Teams in the AFC North


BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Green-Ellis and the Bengals are on a four-game winning streak and host the Cowboys.

The AFC North has been among the toughest divisions in football over the last few years and it goes deeper than just Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Cincinnati made the playoffs last year giving the division three spots in the annual National Football League tournament. While all three making it in this year remains a possibility, it appears to be less likely with Indianapolis already a game up on both the Steelers and Bengals. What that means, is a Week 16 showdown in Pittsburgh could very well decide the fate of the other wild-card team.

The division race is still in the hands of Baltimore who with a win and loss by either the Steelers or Bengals can clinch division crown. Should the Ravens get beat in Washington and the Steelers and Bengals win, then it could get very interesting as the Ravens have to finish with Denver and the New York Giants at home and the season finale at Cincinnati. The Ravens would be best served to take care of things today against the Redskins.

Pittsburgh stayed alive with a dramatic win over the Ravens last week and the Bengals escaped San Diego with a fourth-straight win despite not playing as well as had they recently. For their part, the Browns continue to play pretty inspired football as they followed up a win over rival Pittsburgh with a win out in Oakland. Cleveland may be on the down-side of their record this season, but you cannot blame their effort.

The Standings: Baltimore 9-3, Cincinnati 7-5, Pittsburgh 7-5, Cleveland 4-8

Baltimore Ravens (+3) at Washington – The Ravens get their first shot at Robert Griffin III and they’ll need to be disciplined about it. Not only is RGIII running the ball well, but his throwing has been impressive most of the season as well. If the ‘Skins can get Alfred Morris going then that only makes RGIII more effective.

Baltimore must do a better job of getting the ball to Ray Rice who only carried 12 times last week and had not touches in the fourth quarter in the loss to the Steelers. Washington does not rush the passer very well at all and that is exactly why I like the Ravens to win this one by seven.

Kansas City (+7) at Cleveland – The Chiefs went out last Sunday and played inspired football in defeating the Carolina Panthers 24 hours after the murder-suicide involving Jevon Belcher. Brady Quinn was excellent last week and will have more motivation this week playing in the city where he began his NFL career.

The Browns will no doubt stick with the strong running of Trent Richardson and solid play of fellow-rookie Brandon Weeden. What has really been impressive for Cleveland has been the defense which seemingly has improved each week since the beginning of the season. I like the Browns to win, but I like the Chiefs to cover in losing by three.

Ben Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger returns after missing the last three games.

San Diego (+9) at Pittsburgh – The Chargers come to the Steel City on Sunday with nothing but chaos surrounding them. Reports earlier this week that both Head Coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith would be fired at the end of the season may or may not be true but they can’t be good for a struggling team. Toss in the fact that the Chargers are 0-14 in Pittsburgh during the regular season and things don’t look too good for the Bolts.

Ben Roethlisberger will start for the Steelers but I expect rust. It was just a week ago that he struggled in practice to get velocity on the ball and apparently he is good-to-go this week. I also expect the defense to be its’ usual self, but the loss of Ike Turner for a few games will be noticeable and I look  for Philip Rivers to pick on Cortez Allen early in the game. I like the Steelers to win but they tend to play down to their competition so take the Chargers to keep it within nine.

Dallas (+3) at Cincinnati – The Cowboys travel north to Cincy with yet more drama than normal. Defensive players Josh Brent and Jerry Brown were involved in a drunk-driving accident in which Brent is in police custody and Brown is dead. While they are not out of playoff contention yet, Dallas can ill-afford another loss at this point and now the team must deal with this.

The Bengals return home with that four-game winning streak and will challenge a depleted Dallas defense with a nice combination of weapons including A.J. Green and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Cowboys were able to get past a sliding Eagles’ team last week, but barely. Take the Bengals to cover and stay in the AFC race.

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