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AFC North Preview: Week 6

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Week 6 of the NFL season brings the opportunity of a potential shakeup in the AFC North standings. Can Cincinnati stay hot and protect their lead in the division? Will Baltimore rebound from their ugly loss against Cleveland? Can the Browns stay motivated and continue their upward trend? Has Pittsburgh finally turned the corner for the season?

Cincinnati Bengals (4-1)

The Bengals currently lead the division at 4-1. Cincinnati hopes to extend their hot streak by holding off the 2-2-1 Steelers today at home.

The Bengals 22nd ranked pass defense will have to slow down Pittsburgh’s fourth ranked passing attack. The Steelers offense seemed to finally click last week against the Atlanta Falcons in a 41-17 victory. Cincinnati will have to find a way to contain wide receivers Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster as well as tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James. Pressuring quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and forcing him into mistakes is key for stalling Pittsburgh’s potent offense.

Meanwhile, the Bengals will also have to watch for Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt. Watt has a league-high six sacks through just five games this season. Cincinnati’s receivers have the advantage over Pittsburgh’s 29th ranked passing defense. Quarterback Andy Dalton’s strong performances this season should continue this week.

The Bengals would improve to 5-1 with a win, further distancing themselves in the race to win the AFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2-1)

After a bounce back win against the Falcons, the Steelers must now travel to Cincinnati to face the division leading 4-1 Bengals in a game with huge implications.

Pittsburgh’s offense came alive against Atlanta with Roethlisberger throwing for 250 yards and three touchdowns. The offense will look to continue rolling in Week 5; however, it will be against a much tougher Cincinnati defense this time. Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is tied for the league’s most sacks with six while defensive end Carlos Dunlap has four. Cincinnati boasts a slew of dangerous pass rushers behind those two as well. The Steelers offensive line will have to prevent the Bengals front seven from taking over the game.

The real challenge for Pittsburgh will be stopping Cincinnati’s dangerous receivers. A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and John Ross all present problems for the Steelers struggling secondary. Running back Joe Mixon has emerged as a threat as well, both on the ground and in the passing game. Double teaming Green should be the top priority for Pittsburgh.

A win over the Bengals would put the Steelers at 3-2-1 and only one game behind Cincinnati in the division.

Cleveland Browns (2-2-1)

After an upset win over the Ravens last week, Cleveland now hosts the 3-2 Los Angeles Chargers.

The Browns defense is playing at a high level, leading the NFL in takeaways with 15. Cleveland’s defense held Baltimore’s offense to three field goals in a 12-9 overtime win. Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward is performing exceptionally well with three interceptions through five games. Defensive end Myles Garrett leads the front seven with an impressive five sacks. The unit must continue to play well against the Chargers seventh ranked offense.

The Browns inexperience at offense tackle could present a huge problem against defensive end Melvin Ingram. Luckily for Cleveland, star pass rusher Joey Bosa is still out with a foot injury. The Browns must establish the run game early to keep the Los Angeles pass rush at bay. Running back’s Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb could see a heavy workload today.

The Browns would improve to 3-2-1 with a win over the Chargers, which would put them right in the discussion of winning the AFC North. The last time Cleveland had three wins in a season was in 2015.

Baltimore Ravens (3-2)

After a disappointing and ugly 12-9 loss to the Browns in Week 5, Baltimore now stays on the road, traveling to Tennessee to face the 3-2 Titans.

The story line of the game has been the Ravens facing former defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who has helped lead Tennessee’s defense to the seventh overall ranking in the NFL. Baltimore is coming off of a horrible game offensively and will look to find some rhythm again on Sunday. The Titans have an impressive front seven, led by defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. The Ravens will have to successfully run the ball with Alex Collins to help open up the deep ball for wide receiver John Brown. Tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews could play a big role in the passing game as well against Tennessee’s linebackers.

On defense, Baltimore must stop the run and force quarterback Marcus Mariota to beat them through the air. Mariota has had an up-and-down season so far, only throwing for 676 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. Still, Mariota is a dangerous runner, both at picking up yards and extending plays. The Ravens will have to find a way to keep Mariota inside the pocket this afternoon if they want to force him into mistakes.

Baltimore would improve to 4-2 with a win this week. The division is still within their grasp and a win on Sunday would go a long way towards winning it.