Heading into Week 8 of the NFL season, the AFC North remains one of the most competitive divisions in the league. The Steelers reaped the greatest benefit last week without playing, as the Ravens and Bengals lost, handing over first place to the Steel City. Meanwhile, Cleveland will fight to remain in contention for the division.
Baltimore Ravens (4-3)
The Ravens lost in heartbreaking fashion to the New Orleans Saints 24-23, when Justin Tucker missed the first extra point of his career. Baltimore must move on quickly, however, as they hit the road to face another strong NFC South opponent, the Carolina Panthers.
Quarterback Cam Newton has led Carolina to a 4-2 start with his strong performance, throwing 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions while completing 65.6% of his passes. Six-foot five-inch Newton presents a much different challenge for the Ravens top-ranked defense as he leads all quarterbacks with 257 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Running back Christian McCaffrey has started his sophomore season strong as well. McCaffrey currently has 378 rushing yards, 289 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown. Tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Devin Funchess are two big targets for Newton through the air.
On defense, Carolina boasts one of the best front sevens in the league, led by All-Pro inside linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Panthers secondary is the weak point of the defense, ranking 17th in the league. Joe Flacco must target Carolina’s young corners through the air. Either Michael Crabtree or John Brown could have a big day for the Ravens.
Baltimore would improve to 5-3 with a win on Sunday and remain in good position to potentially win the division.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-3)
Tampa Bay currently has the top-ranked total offense and passing offense. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson are one of the better wide receiver duos in the NFL, combining for over 1,000 yards already. Evans, at 6’5”, has a huge catch radius while Jackson is still one of the fastest receivers in the league, despite being 31-years old. Second-year tight end O.J. Howard is a threat in the passing game as well, catching 20 passes for 351 yards and two touchdowns so far. Cincinnati’s 29th-ranked pass defense will have their hands full in this game.
On the flip side, the Buccaneers own one of the worst defenses in the NFL, specifically in the secondary where they rank dead last in the league. Bengals wide receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd must take advantage of this on offense. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s run defense currently ranks sixth in the NFL, albeit possibly a bit misleading.
Cincinnati can reestablish their lead in the division at 5-3 with a win this week and a Steelers loss.
Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1)
After a bye week, the Steelers will now host the Browns in their second game of the season. The first meeting between these two division rivals ended in an overtime tie in Week 1, but a lot has changed since then.
Cleveland’s offense has lost two major players since the last time Pittsburgh played them. Both wide receiver Josh Gordon and running back Carlos Hyde have since been traded. Rookie Baker Mayfield has taken over the quarterback position from Tyrod Taylor as well, which has given the team a new breath of life. The Browns currently have the 5th ranked rushing offense, now headed by rookie Nick Chubb. Jarvis Landry has enjoyed a solid season thus far with Cleveland, catching 41 passes for 489 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie receiver Antonio Callaway and second-year tight end David Njoku both have over 200 receiving yards as well. The Steelers pass rush will have to get to Mayfield consistently to throw him off his game.
On defense for the Browns, defensive end Myles Garrett has shown why he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2017, with seven sacks on the year. Rookie cornerback and fourth-overall pick Denzel Ward has lived up to his billing as well with three interceptions and even a blocked field goal. Although Cleveland’s defense isn’t ranked in top half of the league, they are still an opportunistic and stout unit. The last time they faced Pittsburgh, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger committed five turnovers.
A Week 8 win would keep the Steelers at the top of the division with a 4-2-1 record.
Cleveland Browns (2-4-1)
After a close loss to the Buccaneers last week, Cleveland faces the Steelers on the road in a pivotal division game.
Pittsburgh’s offense has improved greatly since the Week 1 match up between these two teams. Running back James Conner has done a good job filling in for Le’Veon Bell, rushing for 453 yards and seven touchdowns. Star receiver Antonio Brown is having another fantastic season with 478 receiving yards and six touchdowns so far. Second-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has over 500 receiving yards and two touchdowns as well. The biggest surprise has been the emergence of tight end Vance McDonald, however. Both McDonald and fellow tight end Jesse James have a combined 548 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
The Steelers defense is tied for the second most sacks in the league with 22. Linebacker T.J. Watt leads the pass rush with six sacks. Linebacker Bud Dupree and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave are next with three sacks each. Pittsburgh’s pass defense is the weakest link, ranked 27th in the NFL. Containing the Steelers pass rush and exploiting their secondary will be key to finding success on offense for the Browns.
Cleveland will remain in competition in the AFC North by defeating Pittsburgh and improving to 3-4-1.