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AFC North Preview: Week 11

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday night features an AFC North matchup of a team trying to remain alive for the division title and another trying to keep their season alive. Meanwhile, on Sunday, the division leader will take on the AFC South leader in a heavyweight battle while another team desperately searches for their first win of the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4)

The Steelers remain in contention for the AFC North despite losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the beginning of the season. This is in large part to the strong play of the defense after acquiring safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins.

Pittsburgh has the chance to snag their first divisional win of the season on Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers defense will need to take advantage of Cleveland’s dysfunctional offense, particularly the offensive line. Pittsburgh leads the league in quarterback hits with 71 through the first 10 weeks, so expect them to put the pressure on quarterback Baker Mayfield.

In stark contrast to recent years, the Steelers currently have one of the worst offenses in the NFL, ranking 28th in total offense. Second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph must continue to develop as a passer while avoiding turnovers to give his team the best shot to remain competitive late into the season.

Cleveland Browns (3-6)

The Browns snapped their four-game losing streak with their win over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, keeping their playoff hopes alive for the moment with a big opportunity to make a statement against a divisional rival on Thursday.

Cleveland‘s offense is currently tied for third in giveaways this season and will be facing a Pittsburgh defense which ranks second in takeaways. QB Baker Mayfield will have to continue his strong play from last week in order to win on Thursday. RB Nick Chubb and recently-returned Kareem Hunt should both see extensive workloads.

The Browns defense will face the struggling offense of the Steelers. Pittsburgh still has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, however, and will look to limit defensive end Myles Garrett’s impact on the game. Establishing the running attack with running back James Conner will most likely be a point of focus on Thursday.

Baltimore Ravens (7-2)

The Ravens enter Week 11 as the hottest team in football after winning five straight games, including wins over the now 8-2 Seattle Seahawks and 8-1 New England Patriots. After walloping the winless Cincinnati Bengals last week, Baltimore will now face the AFC South leading Houston Texans in a match up of two MVP candidates at quarterback.

The Ravens defense struggled to stop running back Joe Mixon after defensive tackle Michael Pierce left the game with an ankle injury. Pierce’s availability is currently listed as day-to-day, but if he is unable to suit up on Sunday, it could spell trouble for Baltimore against Houston’s fourth-ranked rushing offense. Recently signed defensive linemen Domata Peko and Justin Ellis could help fill in if Pierce is inactive this week.

The Texans currently own the third-ranked rushing defense and the 29th passing offense, which could spell a different game plan from the normal run-heavy one for the Ravens, although they employed the opposite against the 32nd-ranked run defense of the Bengals.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-9)

With the recent two-game winning streak by the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati remains the only team in the NFL who have yet to win a game this season. First-year HC Zac Taylor continues to battle for a win as the possibility of an 0-16 season looms in the background.

The Bengals will face the 5-4 Oakland Raiders on Sunday, who are coming off a big win against the Los Angeles Chargers to open last week on Thursday night. The Raiders have a potent rushing attack that ranks eighth in the NFL and is spearheaded by rookie RB Josh Jacobs. Oakland should have no problem moving the ball on the ground against Cincinnati.

Rookie QB Ryan Finley must rebound after a shaky first start against Baltimore in which he had both an interception and fumble returned for touchdowns. In spite of this, Finley showed signs of promise, specifically with his ability to escape pressure in the pocket and scramble or find an open target. Facing the 26th-ranked defense of the Raiders should make life easier on Finley in his second career start.