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AFC North Preview: Week 7

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Week 7 of the NFL season will hopefully bring some clarity to the AFC North. Baltimore and Cincinnati have a chance to prove they belong with the top teams in the league. Cleveland will look to rebound from an ugly loss while Pittsburgh enjoys their bye week.

Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)

The Bengals suffered a heartbreaking loss on Sunday to the Steelers when Antonio Brown scored a last-second touchdown. With this loss, Cincinnati fell to 4-2 and is now in danger of losing the lead in the AFC North with the Ravens improving to 4-2. Now, the Bengals travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the 5-1 Kansas City Chiefs.

Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes has led the unstoppable juggernaut that is the Chief’s offense to an unbelievable start, with their first loss coming last week to the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football in Foxborough. Mahomes is currently a contender for regular season MVP after throwing for 18 touchdowns and only four interception in the first six weeks. He is helped by an explosive arsenal of weapons on offense. Tyreek Hill is emerging as one of the best wide receivers in the game with his game-breaking speed. Travis Kelce is a top three tight end while Kareem Hunt is one of the league’s best young running backs. Cincinnati’s defense was unable to stop the explosive offense of the Steelers a week ago and it will only be harder against Kansas City.

The Chiefs enter Week 7 ranked dead last in the NFL in total defense. The Bengals 23rd-ranked offense will have to outscore Kansas City’s 5th-ranked offense in what should be a high-scoring affair. The Chiefs have scored less than 30 points only once this season. Conversely, Kansas City’s defense has held an opponent to under 20 points just once.

Cincinnati has a chance to prove they are a real contender with a win over the Chiefs.

Baltimore Ravens (4-2)

After a dominating shutout win over the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens now face a much tougher opponent in the 4-1 New Orleans Saints, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.

Brees is another MVP candidate, throwing for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions so far. The Saints offense is ranked third in the NFL in total yards, third in passing yards and 19th in rushing yards per game. Don’t let the ranking of the run game fool you, however, as New Orleans boasts a deadly combo at running back in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Wide receiver Michael Thomas is quickly becoming one of the best in the NFL at his position and the favorite target of Brees. Baltimore’s defense is ranked first in total yards, second in passing and third in rushing yards per game. Sunday will be a true test for the league’s top ranked defense.

On the other side of the ball, the Saints defense has taken a step backwards from a season ago, though it’s not for lack of talent. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is still one of the best young corners in the league while Cameron Jordan is still a disruptive force on the defense line with five sacks. New Orleans currently possesses the number one run defense in the NFL as well. Joe Flacco will have to take advantage of their 30th ranked passing defense. Look for slot receiver Willie Snead IV to have a big game against his former team. It is also worth noting that Lattimore’s status for Sunday is still unknown after suffering a concussion in their previous game.

Baltimore has an opportunity to take the lead in the AFC North with a win over the Saints and a Bengals loss to the Chiefs. This would prove that the Ravens belong with the top teams as a true contender in the AFC.

Cleveland Browns (2-3-1)

After a huge win over a divisional rival, the Browns were absolutely crushed by the Los Angeles Chargers in a 38-14 loss. Now, Cleveland travels to Tampa Bay to face the 2-3 Buccaneers.

Despite their losing record, Tampa Bay owns the top ranked passing offense and has several dangerous weapons for the Browns to worry about. 6’5” Mike Evans is arguably a top-10 wide receiver while DeSean Jackson has shown he still has the elite speed to punish defenses over the top. Tight end O.J. Howard is developing into a threat as well in his second season. Cleveland will have to rattle quarterback Jameis Winston with their pass rush. Winston has a history of turnovers and Browns defense leads the league in with 16 takeaways. Defensive end Myles Garrett will need to make his presence felt early and often.

Luckily for Cleveland, the Buccaneers defense is ranked 31st in total yards and last in passing yards per game. Tampa Bay does currently have the fifth best rushing defense, but that could be because it is so easy to pass against them and their games often result in high scoring shootouts. The Browns are 28th in total defense, so this game could come down to one defensive stop.

Cleveland would improve to 3-3-1 with a win this week. With the race for the AFC North quickly heating up, the Browns will have to win often to keep pace, starting on Sunday.