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AFC North Preview Week 6: Reunion week

Familiar faces all around

NFL: OCT 09 Bengals at Ravens Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Following an AFC North battle on Sunday Night Football in Week 5, a new team sits atop the AFC North. What does Week 6 have in store for the division?

Baltimore Ravens (3-2)

The Baltimore Ravens exacted revenge over the Cincinnati Bengals with a 19-17 victory on Sunday Night Football to improve to 3-2 and take the lead of the division. Now, they will face the New York Giants in Week 6 as 5.5-point road favorites.

Baltimore will see an old friend this week in Giants’ defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. Martindale spent a decade with the Ravens, with the last four seasons as the team’s defensive coordinator before parting ways this offseason and joining the Giants.

Martindale claims there are no hard feelings towards Baltimore and Head Coach John Harbaugh.

“It was like I said, we’re family, John and I are,” Martindale said. “It was nothing negative, it was just time. When I say it was just time, it was just time for both of us.”

The Ravens will be without their top wide receiver again this week as Rashod Bateman continues to miss practice with a foot injury. Free safety Marcus Williams will also miss significant time after a dislocated wrist landed him on injured reserve this past week.

Baltimore did receive some positive news on the injury front, however, as outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo returned to practice after both suffering torn Achilles earlier this year. Running back Justice Hill also returned to practice after suffering a hamstring injury in Week 4 against the Buffalo Bills. Justin Houston will remain sidelined with a groin injury.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-3)

The Bengals’ offensive struggles continued last week in their loss to the Ravens. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has yet to have a breakout game this season after a dominant rookie campaign. The 2021 AFC Super Bowl representatives will now travel to New Orleans to face the Saints as three-point road favorites.

Quarterback Andy Dalton will start for the Saints on Sunday in place of the injured Jameis Winston. Dalton was drafted by Cincinnati in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He spent the next nine seasons as the quarterback of the Bengals, leading the way to multiple playoff appearances. Dalton has already played his former team twice, once as a member of the Dallas Cowboys and then as a Chicago Bear, and has won each contest.

“Three years in a row,” Dalton said. “It was one of the things when I signed here, I saw that we would be playing Cincinnati again. Just the way it’s worked out.”

Wide receiver Tee Higgins missed most of Week 6’s game against Baltimore after aggravating a preexisting ankle injury that also kept him limited in practice this week. Left tackle Jonah Williams suffered a dislocated kneecap against the Ravens but was able to play through it. Tight end Hayden Hurst is dealing with a groin injury as well. All three are questionable for Week 6.

Cleveland Browns (2-3)

The Browns fell to 2-3 after losing to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5. Cleveland will host the New England Patriots in Week 6 as 2.5-point home favorites.

The Browns added some help on defense following their Sunday loss when they traded for Atlanta Falcons’ linebacker Deion Jones, although he is not expected to play this week against the Patriots. Cleveland has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards in the league this season and surrendered a total of 465 yards of offense against the Chargers last week. Jones may not be his former Pro Bowl self, but he should still help a struggling defense.

The Browns also activated cornerback Greedy Williams from injured reserve this week. The 2019 second-round pick was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury just before the start of the regular season.

One thing that could help Cleveland’s defense would be the absence of quarterback Mac Jones for the Patriots this Sunday. Jones suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 3 and is currently questionable against the Browns. Fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe made his debut last week in place of the injured backup quarterback Brian Hoyer and would be in line to start again this week if Jones does not suit up.

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4)

The Steelers continue to plummet even after making a quarterback change. Pittsburgh's 38-3 defeat to the Buffalo Bills marked their third loss in a row after winning in Week 1. The Steelers will host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as 10-point home underdogs in Week 6.

To make matters much worse, Pittsburgh will be without star free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, as well as three of their top cornerbacks, Cam Sutton, Akhello Witherspoon, and Levi Wallace on Sunday. Strong safety Terrell Edmunds is expected to return after missing last week with a concussion. Cornerbacks Josh Jackson, James Pierre, and Arthur Maulet will be tasked with stopping Brady and wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin this week.

Rookie first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett has yet to throw a passing touchdown through two starts after taking over for veteran Mitch Trubisky. The change of passers has led to the emergence of rookie second-round wide receiver George Pickens as Pickett’s favorite target. The Georgia receiver has caught 12 passes for 185 yards over the past two games after a quiet start to the season.