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AFC North preview: Preseason Week 1

The rundown on all the action happening in the division this weekend.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Training Camp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The first round of preseason action is finally upon us, and each of the four AFC North teams are suiting up this weekend. The starters for the Ravens, Browns, Bengals, and Steelers don’t figure to play very much, but there are still interesting storylines at play.

Below is a preview of Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh’s opening matchups. You can find the full preview of the Ravens matchup against the Jaguars here.

Cleveland Browns

Matchup: vs. Washington Redskins (Home)

When: Thursday, August 8, 7:30 PM EST

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:

Baker and OBJ Connection

All eyes will be on Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. Thursday night. These two seemingly have developed a nice rapport this offseason and have been connecting for numerous big plays in training camp. Even in limited action, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mayfield and OBJ connect numerous times against Washington.

Austin Corbett vs. Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne

The lone newbie on the Browns offensive line is right guard Austin Corbett, who is replacing the traded Kevin Zeitler. Corbett has reportedly been ceding first-team reps to Eric Kush over the past several days of camp, so this is a big preseason for him. His quest to hold onto the starting job may not get off to a good start, as the former second-round pick will have his hands full against the likes of Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Matchup: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Home)

When: Friday, August 9, 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:

Life without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell

Friday night will represent the first instance in quite some that neither Brown nor Bell will be suited up for Pittsburgh. While it’s only a preseason game, it’s gonna take some getting used to for everyone involved. It’ll be interesting to see how the offense looks without these two former stalwarts on the field.

Starting WR2 competition

Circling back to the absence of AB, we know JuJu Smith-Schuster is stepping into the WR1 role but after that, there’s some uncertainty. Free agent signee Donte Moncrief is listed as the starter but youngsters James Washington and Diontae Johnson are competing to upsurt him for the second wideout job. Keep an eye on how Washington and Johnson perform in the preseason opener.

Cincinnati Bengals

Matchup: vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Away)

When: Saturday, August 10, 8:00 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:

Who steps up in A.J. Green’s absence?

The question pinging the Bengals for several years now is once again at the forefront of the offseason. A.J. Green is set to miss the entire preseason and potentially multiple regular season games. In his absence, the likes of John Ross, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson have a great chance to carve out a role and win the starting job. The first preseason game represents a prime opportunity to gain a leg up in the competition.

Defensive backs vs. Kansas City’s passing game

The Bengals secondary is one of their more talented groups on the roster, at least on the defensive side of the ball. It’s a young core, however, and they’ll be put to the test against Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill, even if it’s only for a couple drives.