Entering Week 10 of the NFL season, the AFC North is becoming clearer. Pittsburgh leads the division at 5-2-1. Cincinnati follows up at 5-3 and Baltimore is in third at 4-5 after three straight losses. Cleveland remains at the bottom with a record of 2-6-1. Both the Steelers and Bengals will take on two of the top teams in the league this week, while the Browns host the Falcons and the Ravens enjoy a much-needed bye week.
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1)
Pittsburgh is on a four-game winning streak heading into Week 10. The Steelers must now face the 6-2 Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football in a game featuring two of the NFL’s best teams.
The Panthers are red hot, winning three in a row. Quarterback Cam Newton is having a great season so far, and tight end Greg Olsen has returned from injury to produce at a high level as well. The strength of the offense, however, is the rushing attack, which is second-best in the league. Pittsburgh will have to stop the run and force Newton to win the game with his arm, while also keeping tabs on the elusive Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield in the pass game.
On offense, Pittsburgh must attack Carolina’s young corners with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers have the fourth-ranked passing attack in the NFL, and the Panthers have the 19th pass defense. Pittsburgh must remain committed to James Conner on the ground as well.
A win against Carolina on Thursday Night Football will solidify the Steelers as one of the best teams in the NFL and help to extend their lead in the division.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)
Cincinnati returns from their bye week to face possibly the hottest team in the entire league, the 7-1 New Orleans Saints.
Drew Brees is in the middle of an incredible season, throwing for 18 touchdowns to only one interception. Running back Alvin Kamara has proven to be one of the league’s elite offensive skill players rushing for nine touchdowns as well as recording three receiving scores, and wide receiver Michael Thomas is also one of the best in the NFL at his position. Thomas has 880 receiving yards and five touchdowns through the first nine weeks of the season. New Orleans also signed veteran receiver Dez Bryant this past week, although it is unclear if he will play or not on Sunday. The Bengals are faced with the almost impossible task of having to keep a lid on Thomas and contain Kamara underneath while also generating consistent pressure on Brees.
On offense, establishing the run game with Joe Mixon will be instrumental in extending drives and keeping Brees off the field. Star wide receiver A.J. Green will miss Sunday’s game with a toe injury that could potentially require surgery and sideline him for multiple weeks. This leaves a huge weight on Tyler Boyd and John Ross to step up in Green’s absence. While Boyd is having a solid season as the team’s second receiver, Ross has yet to make much of an impact with only 79 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Improving to 6-3 with a win over an elite Saints team would go a long way in helping Cincinnati return to the playoffs.
Cleveland Browns (2-7-1)
What was thought to be a bounce-back season for Cleveland has quickly spun out of control. The Browns are currently on a four-game losing streak as they get ready to face the 4-4 Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons have won three straight games and are seemingly improving every week. Matt Ryan has played exceptionally well in 2018, throwing for 2,685 yards and 19 touchdowns to only three interceptions. Ryan has led Atlanta to the second-ranked passing offense in the NFL. Rookie corner Denzel Ward will have his hands full on Sunday for Cleveland. Rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley has flourished thus far with seven touchdowns on the season, and he has been a perfect compliment to the elite Julio Jones.
Luckily for the Browns, the Falcons defense is no where near as good as their offense, ranking 28th in the league in total defense and surrendering 28.2 points per game. This game could turn into a high scoring shootout if quarterback Baker Mayfield is able to keep up with Ryan and minimize mistakes. Mayfield has had an up-and-down season so far, throwing only three more touchdowns (10) than interceptions.
Although the season is lost, a win against Atlanta would do a lot for the confidence of this young Cleveland team.