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Preseason Week 2: AFC North preview

Sizing up each team’s second preseason matchups across the division.

NFL: Preseason-Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

After an eventful opening week of preseason football, the consensus top teams in the AFC North all finished as victors - Ravens, Browns, and Steelers. The Bengals were thoroughly handled by Kansas City and are looking to bounce back against the Washington Redskins.

Baltimore will try to extend their preseason win streak against the Packers tomorrow, and you can check out the preview for that matchup here. As for the remaining teams in the division, here’s where things stand heading into Week 2 of the preseason.

Cleveland Browns

Matchup: vs. Indianapolis Colts (Away)

When: Saturday, August 17, 4:00 PM

Projected starters:

Cleveland Browns

QB - Baker Mayfield DT - Sheldon Richardson
RB - Nick Chubb DT - Larry Ogunjobi
FB - Orson Charles DE - Myles Garrett
LT - Greg Robinson DE - Oliver Vernon
LG - Joel Bitonio WILL - Christian Kirksey
C - A.C. Tretter MIKE - Joe Schobert
RG - Austin Corbett SAM - Ray-Ray Armstrong
RT - Chris Hubbard CB - Denzel Ward
TE - David Njoku CB - Terrance Michell
WR - Odell Beckham Jr. S - Morgan Burnett
WR - Jarvis Landry S - Damarious Randall

What to watch for:

Rashard Higgins follow-up performance

Against the Redskins last week, Higgins was Cleveland’s best offensive skill player. The fourth-year receiver caught five of his six targets for 98 receiving yards and a touchdown. While it’s only preseason, it would mark the highest-yardage outing performance of Higgins career. Last season, Higgins was fourth on the Browns in receiving yards (572) and fifth in receptions (39). With Antonio Callaway facing a four-game suspension, Higgins is currently the #3 receiver in Cleveland’s offense. Another strong outing against the Colts would spark further confidence that he’s more than capable of starting-caliber play this season.

Which running backs step up?

The Browns traded Duke Johnson Jr. to the Texans for a 2020 draft pick last week, leaving rising sophomore Nick Chubb as the only defined talent on the Browns running back depth chart. Obviously, Kareem Hunt is one of the more skilled backs in the league, but he’s set to be suspended until the middle of the season. Until he’s available to play. the Browns will fill out their backfield with some combination of Dontrell Hilliard, D’Ernest Johnson, and/or Trayone Gray. The preseason is a great chance for these guys to make their mark.

Cincinnati Bengals

Matchup: vs. Washington Redskins (Away)

When: Thursday, August 15, 7:30 PM

Projected starters:

Cincinnati Bengals

QB - Andy Dalton DT - Andrew Billings
RB - Joe Mixon DT - Geno Atkins
LT - Cordy Glenn DE - Carlos Dunlap
LG - John Jerry DE - Jordan Willis
C - Billy Price SLB - Nick Vigil
RG - Alex Redmond MLB - Preston Brown
RT - Bobby Hart WLB - Jordan Evans
TE - C.J. Uzomah CB - Dre Kirkpatrick
TE - Tyler Eifert CB - William Jackson III
WR - Tyler Boyd S - Shanwn Williams
WR - Cody Core S - Jesse Bates III

What to watch for:

Ryan Finley = backup quarterback?

The Bengals exhausted a fourth-round selection in this year’s draft on Ryan Finley, an experienced quarterback out of North Carolina St. Finley has been listed third on the team’s depth chart behind Andy Dalton and Jeff Driskel, who stepped in as Cincinnati’s starter towards the end of last season in the wake of Dalton’s injury. Finley looked like the better quarterback against the Chiefs last week, however. The rookie completed 13/18 passes for 109 yards, tossed a touchdown, and finished with a rating of 82.9. For comparison, Driskel completed 8/19 throws for just 79 yards and threw an interception. Another lopsided difference in their performances on Thursday could brew a quarterback controversy.

Andrew Brown’s progression

Perhaps the biggest silver lining in Cincinnati’s blowout loss to Kansas City was the performance of defensive lineman Andrew Brown. The team’s fifth-round selection in 2018 was maybe their most impressive player on the defensive side of the ball. While he only recorded two tackles, Brown posted a sack, tackle for loss, and three quarterback hits. He looked spry rushing the passer and made plays in the backfield. If Brown can find similar success against the Redskins, he’ll be well on his way to locking up a roster spot.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Matchup: vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Home)

When: Saturday, August 17, 7:30 PM

Projected starters:

Pittsburgh Steelers

QB - Ben Roethlisberger DT - Javon Hargrave
RB - James Conner DE - Cameron Hayward
FB - Roosevelt Nix DE - Stephon Tuitt
LT - Alejandro Villanueva OLB - Bud Dupree
LG - Ramon Foster MLB - Vince Williams
C - Maurkice Pouncey MLB - Devin Bush Jr.
RG - David DeCastro OLB - T.J. Watt
RT - Matt Fieler CB - Joe Haden
TE - Vance McDonald CB - Steven Nelson
WR - JuJu Smith-Schuster S - Sean Davis
WR - Donte Moncrief S - Terrell Edmunds

What to watch for:

Is James Washington an emerging contributor?

Second-year receiver James Washington has been hyped up as a potential breakout candidate for Pittsburgh this season. Believers in Washington were only validated in their confidence in last week’s preseason opener. JW caught four passes for 84 yards and a touchdown, torching the Buccaneers downfield for multiple big plays. It was an encouraging performance from the young wideout and following it up with another strong display may see him emerge as a legit challenger for the starting WR2 spot.

Benny Snell Jr. attempting to carve out a role

Pittsburgh surprised some when they selected Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. in the fourth round of the draft, but the organization has claimed they have plans to utilize him this season. However, with James Conner receiving the early-down work and Jaylen Samuels stealing pass-catching opportunities, the chances of Snell playing significant snaps seem murky. He saw a heavy dose of carries against Tampa Bay (13) but turned the into just 26 rushing yards, although he did catch two passes for 25 yards through the air.