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AFC North preview: Week 3

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After two weeks of football, the Bengals sit atop the AFC North at 2-0, the Ravens in second place at 1-1, and the Steelers and Browns both at the bottom at 0-1-1. Here is a preview of each team’s match up for Week 3 of the regular season:

Cleveland Browns

After a Week 1 tie against Pittsburgh and a heartbreaking loss to New Orleans last week, Cleveland has yet to win a game. The Browns host the 1-1 Jets on Thursday Night Football this week. The Jets are coming off of a loss to the Dolphins in which rookie quarterback Sam Darnold threw two interceptions. Cleveland’s defense leads the NFL in takeaways through the first two weeks with eight, so they will try to force Darnold into making more rookie mistakes.

Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez missed two field goal attempts and two extra points against the Saints, leaving a total of eight points on the field in a game lost by three points. Cleveland cut Gonzalez following the performance and signed rookie kicker Greg Joseph. Gonzalez also had a potential game-winning field goal blocked in overtime against the Steelers in Week 1 and the game ended in a tie.

Cleveland traded talented wide receiver Josh Gordon to the Patriots this week in exchange for a 2019 fifth-round pick. Rookie receiver Antonio Callaway must now step up as the team’s number two receiver behind Jarvis Landry. Callaway scored a 47-yard game-tying touchdown against New Orleans.

The Browns will try and take advantage of a young Jets’ team led by a rookie quarterback to get their first win since Dec. 24, 2016.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens will face the Broncos after a 10-day week following a 34-23 loss to the Bengals. The biggest concern following the loss was the injury to All-Pro inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who exited the game after the first defensive series with a bone bruise to his knee following an awkward landing. Baltimore’s defense fell apart without Mosley initially, allowing three touchdowns to wide receiver A.J. Green. Things straightened out in the second half after safety Eric Weddle took over the mic headset, but Mosley missing any extra time is a concern for the Ravens. Mosley returned to practice on Thursday but is considered unlikely to play against Denver on Sunday.

Against Cincinnati, Baltimore’s offensive line was a disaster. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap terrorized quarterback Joe Flacco all night long. Now the unit must face elite pass rusher Von Miller and rookie fifth-overall pick Bradley Chubb. It’s still unknown if the Ravens are planning a change the offensive line’s lineup, particularly replacing James Hurst at right tackle with rookie Orlando Brown Jr., who impressed during training camp and the preseason. The run game has been an area of concern through the first two weeks of the season for Baltimore, ranking 23rd in the league in rushing.

Running back Alex Collins only has 16 rushing attempts for 48 yards and one touchdown after the first two games. The Ravens must feature Collins in the offense more to have a successful rushing attack. In turn, the passing game will open up and make life easier for Flacco and the offensive line.

With the Steelers and Browns both winless currently, Baltimore can help solidify their chances of winning the division with a win over the Broncos.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals sit at first place in the AFC North after defeating the Ravens 34-23 in Week 2. Now, Cincinnati will face the 1-1 Panthers this Sunday. Carolina is coming off of a close loss to Atlanta while the Bengals have had 10 days to prepare for their match up. Cincinnati has caught the attention of fans as a possible threat in the AFC and a win over the Panthers would definitely cement that.

Quarterback Andy Dalton had a near flawless game against Baltimore, throwing for 265 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Dalton was not sacked once the entire game either. Dalton can take advantage of Carolina’s questionable secondary if he is able to have another performance similar to last week. A.J. Green will be a favored match up against the Panthers cornerbacks as well. Green scored three touchdowns in the first quarter against the Ravens.

Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap will present problems for Carolina’s shaky offensive line. Beyond Atkins and Dunlap, the Bengals have a slew of promising young pass rushers, most notably second-year player Carl Lawson. Lawson had 8.5 sacks as a rookie last year. With a fresh rotation of good pass rushers, Cincinnati could be a dangerous defense against any offense. Per Pro Football Focus, the Panthers have the 27th ranked offensive line in the NFL after two weeks, just one spot ahead of Baltimore, who had immense trouble containing the Bengals pass rush a week ago.

If Cincinnati can win against Carolina, they will improve the 3-0 and firmly grasp the lead in the AFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers

No team has been in the news more for the wrong reasons this season than the Steelers. Star running back Le’Veon Bell has yet to report to the team due to a contract holdout which could last deep into the season and top wide receiver Antonio Brown failed to report to practice on Monday following a 42-37 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. At 0-1-1, Pittsburgh has fallen under heavy scrutiny and reports of tension in the locker room have run rampant.

The Steelers will now face the 2-0 Buccaneers on Monday Night Football in a critical game for Pittsburgh’s season. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has played unbelievably well through the first two weeks. Fitzpatrick has thrown for a league’s second-best eight touchdowns to only one interception. Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled heavily so far this season, allowing second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes to throw for 326 yards and six touchdowns last week. If Fitzpatrick continues his excellent play than the Steelers could face another shootout Monday night.

Running back James Conner has played well in Bell’s absence and must continue to do so for the offense to play to it’s high potential. The defense has been without cornerback Joe Haden, so getting him back could be a huge boost to the secondary. If the defense can tighten up, the Steelers can still be a dangerous team. An 0-1-1 start does not mean Pittsburgh could not rebound and still win the division for the third year in a row. The Steelers have experienced early-season slumps several times under head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but they always seem to find a way to climb out of them.

A win against the Buccaneers could put Pittsburgh right back in competition for the AFC North. On the other hand, if the Steelers lost on Monday night, things could get ugly really quick in the locker room.