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AFC North Preview: Week 3

NFL: SEP 18 Jets at Browns Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week 2 of the 2022 NFL season brought nothing but despair for the four teams located in the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens suffered the worst collapse in franchise history when they blew a three-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter to the Miami Dolphins, allowing quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to throw six touchdown passes. Simultaneously, the Cleveland Browns blew a 30-17 lead within the final two minutes of regulation against Joe Flacco and the New York Jets. The Cincinnati Bengals’ woes continued into Week 2 as they fell to the Dallas Cowboys, led by backup quarterback Cooper Rush. Meanwhile, The Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the New England Patriots at home.

Cleveland Browns (1-1)

The Browns will look to bounce back this week against a division rival as they host the Steelers on Thursday Night Football. Cleveland is favored by 3.5 against Pittsburgh.

The Browns did receive positive news this week, as right tackle Jack Conklin is expected to make his season debut on Thursday. Conklin suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 12 of the 2021 season. After popping up on the injury report earlier this week, both defensive end Myles Garrett and guard Joel Bitonio are expected to play as well. Jadeveon Clowney, however, is not expected to play against the Steelers after suffering an ankle injury against the Jets.

Cleveland’s defense has emphasized communication on the backend this week after a major mishap allowed Flacco to hit wide receiver Corey Davis for a 66-yard touchdown to make it a one-score game with just over a minute left. The Browns have allowed multiple big plays through the air through two weeks this season, including Davis’ touchdown on Sunday and a 75-yard touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1.

“I think it’s an easy fix,” cornerback Denzel Ward said. “I say we have to over-communicate when we’re out there and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)

Pittsburgh hits the road to Cleveland, Ohio as 3.5-point underdogs on Thursday Night Football.

Star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick joined the injury report on Wednesday with lower leg cramps, but both he and inside linebacker Devin Bush (foot) are expected to play on Thursday. Mitch Trubisky remains at quarterback for the team, although cries for rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett are starting to pick up. Performing well on the road against a divisional opponent will be pivotal for Trubisky to hold on to the starting gig.

Rookie second-round wide receiver George Pickens has yet to make much of an impact so far through two weeks. The offseason star has just three receptions for 26 yards. Following the loss on Sunday, Pickens said that he felt like he was open “99 percent of the time.”

When asked if opposing defenses have done anything to minimize the rookie’s impact, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said, “Pickens is gonna have to put some plays on tape to garner that type of attention, and not in preseason football.”

Cincinnati Bengals (0-2)

The 2021 AFC Super Bowl representatives have had a strange start to the season. Quarterback Joe Burrow and the offense have sputtered through two weeks — a far cry from their display in the playoffs and Super Bowl. The Bengals will remain on the road this week as 4.5-point favorites against the Jets and a quarterback all-too-familiar with them in Flacco.

Sacks have been a glaring issue once again this season. Burrow has been sacked more than any other quarterback with 13 in just two games. The offense, with Rookie of the Year phenom Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd forming one of the league’s deadliest receiving corps, has been held in check — the longest pass completion being just 19 yards in their loss to the Cowboys.

“We’re going to have to win a different way this year and we need to figure that out quickly so that we can get in the win column,” Burrow said. “Teams are going to keep playing us in a soft zone until we prove that we can beat them that way.”

Right tackle La’el Collins was added to the injury report with a back injury and missed practice on Wednesday. Tight end Drew Sample is expected to miss significant time after suffering a knee injury in Week 2. Tight end Devin Asiasi is set to make his debut with the team after being claimed off waivers before the season.

Baltimore Ravens (1-1)

The Ravens have to quickly turn the page after their monumental collapse in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Dolphins as they hit to road to face the New England Patriots as 3-point favorites.

Baltimore is already dealing with a plethora of injuries through two games this season. Quarterback Lamar Jackson was seen wearing an arm sleeve and not throwing on Wednesday after hurting his elbow against Miami. Jackson eased concerns during his Wednesday press conference, saying that he is “going to throw Sunday.” Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (groin) and wide receiver Devin Duvernay (concussion) both missed practice on Wednesday but returned on Thursday. Running back J.K. Dobbins was once again a full participant in practice as his return to the field from a season-ending knee injury inches closer.

The Ravens have multiple other cornerbacks dealing with injuries ahead of Week 3, including Brandon Stephens and Damarion “Pepe” Williams. Baltimore is even thinner at outside linebacker, however, after losing veteran Steven Means to a torn Achilles against the Dolphins. Jason Pierre-Paul visited with the team for the second time after previously visiting in June. Head Coach John Harbaugh expressed hopes of signing the veteran edge rusher.