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AFC North preview: Week 2

Somebody leaves the field Thursday night in first place of the AFC North, Steelers and Browns look for their first win

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season is in the books. With it came a dominant 47-3 win over the Bills for the Ravens, a 34-23 win against the Colts for the Bengals and a 21-21 tie between the Steelers and Browns. Now, to look ahead for the AFC North in Week 2.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore faces a short week of preparation for a road game against Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football. Both teams are 1-0 after and will look to take the lead in the division with a win. The last meeting between these teams didn’t end well for the Ravens as the Bengals eliminated them from the playoffs with a last minute 49-yard touchdown from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd.

Baltimore’s offensive line will be tested heavily against Cincinnati’s stout defensive line. Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson will present a big challenge for the Ravens. Center Matt Skura and right tackle James Hurst will have to step up to the challenge to give Baltimore a fighting chance. Running back Alex Collins should receive a heavier workload this week after the pass-heavy game plan the Ravens started with last week.

Quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled against the Bengals throughout his career, especially at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Hopefully, the new receiver trio can turn things around.

The Bengals have several offensive weapons to attack Baltimore with. Wide receivers A.J. Green and John Ross, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Joe Mixon all present different challenges for the Ravens defense. It is pivotal that Baltimore’s pass rush, led by Terrell Suggs, gets to Andy Dalton and forces him to turn the ball over.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati will host Baltimore in their home opener this Thursday. The Bengals are fresh off of a 34-23 road win over Indianapolis. Cincinnati looks to bring the Ravens back down to earth after their 47-3 win over Buffalo. The Bengals have had success at home against Baltimore, with a record of 10-3 during Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh’s tenure. Cincinnati has consistently been able to pressure Flacco and force him to turn the ball over. That will need to continue Thursday for the Bengals to win the game and take the lead in the AFC North.

A.J. Green has had several game-winning moments against the Ravens but has failed to garner much success the past two seasons. Second-year receiver John Ross should be better this season, which should help draw attention away from Green, especially given Ross’ rare 4.22 speed. Tight end Tyler Eifert is healthy again and should make his mark in the passing game against a Baltimore defense that struggled the cover tight ends a year ago. Second-year running back Joe Mixon will also need to have a big game for Cincinnati’s pass attack to come alive against the Ravens loaded secondary.

Atkins and Dunlap must take advantage of Baltimore’s unproven offensive line and pressure Flacco into making mistakes. Quarterback Andy Dalton will have to be smart with the football as well against the Ravens ball-hawking defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh will host Kansas City on Sunday. The Chiefs are coming off an impressive 38-28 win against the Chargers. Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes looked the part in his first game as a starter, throwing for 256 yards and four touchdowns. The Steelers defense will have to limit an explosive Kansas City offense featuring the speedy Tyreek Hill, who scored two touchdowns against the Chargers. Between Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt, Pittsburgh’s defense will have its hands full.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger started the season off on a bad note, throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice against Cleveland. Roethlisberger has typically played much better at home, however, so a rebound game could be in store for the veteran quarterback. Roethlisberger now faces a less talented Chiefs defense, who is still without star safety Eric Berry.

The Steelers offensive line must protect Roethlisberger better as well; the unit allowed four sacks against the Browns. Protecting the football is the key to victory for Pittsburgh, however. This game could turn into an offensive shootout very fast, and while the Steelers certainly have the firepower on offense to keep up, everything will fall on the performance of Roethlisberger.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland failed to capitalize off of the six turnovers they forced against Pittsburgh in a 21-21 tie last Sunday. The Browns seemingly much-improved defense will now face Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense in New Orleans on Sunday. The Saints defense allowed 48 points to the Ryan Fitzpatrick led Buccaneers, but will Tyrod Taylor be able to find similar success?

Defensive end Myles Garrett had a big game against the Steelers, totaling six tackles, two sacks and a pass deflection. Garrett will need to show up again for Cleveland to have a shot at beating Brees. Despite losing the game last week, Brees still threw for 439 yards and three touchdowns. Brown’s rookie cornerback Denzel Ward had two interceptions in his debut, so he will be paramount to stopping Brees’ passing attack.

Taylor will have to perform better as well. Against the Steelers, Taylor only threw for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The worst stat was his 15/40 completions, however. Taylor was also sacked seven times, so the offensive line must step up and perform better in order for Taylor to do the same. Cleveland may have snapped their losing streak by tying on Sunday, but they have yet to record a single win since the 2016 season.