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AFC North Preview, Week 12: Bengals and Steelers face off, Ravens and Browns hit the road

Taking a look ahead for the AFC North.

NFL: NOV 20 Bengals at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens (8-3)

The Ravens completed their series sweep of the two-time defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals to kick off Week 11. After watching the Kansas City Chiefs fall to the Philadelphia Eagles, they’re now atop both their division and AFC overall. In Week 12, Baltimore will be on the road for a second straight primetime game to face the Los Angeles Chargers (4-6).

The Ravens last played the Chargers in Week 6 of the 2021 season and produced their most impressive win of the season during their hot 8-3 start. In that 34-6 shellacking, the offense racked up 187 rushing yards and had three different running backs score touchdowns. Their defense held Los Angeles to just 208 yards of total offense. The Chargers are currently reeling and are on the outside looking in on the current playoff picture. They’ve lost four of their last six games since their bye week, while the Ravens will be looking to head into their Week 13 bye on a high note.

Both teams had multiple-time Pro Bowlers suffer serious lower leg injuries this past week. Ravens’ tight end Mark Andrews had to undergo ankle surgery on Tuesday and Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday with a foot sprain.

Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf) and All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) returned to practice on Thursday after missing last week’s game. Humphrey was a limited participant on first two days and Stanley was limited on Wednesday and a full participant on Thursday.

Veteran nickelback Arthur Maulet (illness) sat out of practice Wednesday but was full on Thursday and rookie linebacker Trenton Simpson (concussion) returned on a limited basis on Wednesday and sat out Thursday. Second-year slot corner Damarion ‘Pepe’ Williams (ankle) was a full participant both days for the first time this season since recovering from surgery.

Cleveland Browns (7-3)

Despite losing franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson to a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 10, the Browns edged out the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. They earned consecutive wins over the Steelers and Ravens for the first time in team history. The Browns got a dominant defensive effort in fifth-round rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s second career start under center.

The Browns will also be on road this week with the hopes of extending their win streak to four games. They’ll face off against the surging Denver Broncos, who have bounced back from a 1-5 start to the season and will be looking to win their fifth consecutive game. This will likely be another low-scoring slugfest decided by a field goal, as both teams rely heavily on their ground games, defense, and field goal kickers.

The Browns are heading into this AFC matchup with a whopping 18 players listed on their initial injury report on Wednesday. Players that were listed for actual injuries who were limited participants in practice included cornerback Mike Ford (thumb/ribs), linebacker Matthew Adams (quad), right tackle Dawand Jones (knee), linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk (knee), cornerback Greg Newsome (calf), defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo (groin) and guard Wyat Teller (ankle).

The players that sat out of practice for actual injuries included guard Joe Bitonio (knee), safety Grant Delpit (thigh), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion), tight end David Njoku (knee), safety Juan Thornhill (calf), linebacker Anthony Walker (hamstring), and cornerback Denzel Ward (shoulder).

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)

After being outgained for the 10th game in a row to start the season, the Steelers’ late-game luck finally ran out as they fell to the Browns on the road in Week 11. That led to the long-awaited firing of Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada on Tuesday. They’ll be looking to bounce back in a second straight road AFC North matchup when they face the Cincinnati Bengals this week. The Bengals’ defense has performed poorly in all facets as of late and they’ll be without two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow for the remainder of the season.

This will be the first meeting between the two teams this season after they split the regular season series in 2022. Each of their matchups were decided by a touchdown or less. It remains to be seen what the Steelers offense will look like with quarterback coach Mike Sullivan calling plays moving forward but there is nowhere to go but up. Through 11 weeks, their 16.6 points per game are the fifth-fewest in the league and their 2,801 yards of total offense are the third-fewest.

Pittsburgh had several key players on Wednesday’s injury report who did not participate in practice due to rest days but there were still those who are actually banged up. Wide receiver George Pickens (shin) and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring) sat out while cornerback James Pierre (shoulder), linebacker Nick Herbig (hamstring), and defensive tackle Montravius Adams (ankle) were limited.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)

The two-time defending AFC North champions remain in last place after falling to the Ravens in Week 11. To make matters worse, they also lost their franchise quarterback for the rest of the year with a torn ligament in his throwing hand. The Bengals still have yet to win a division game and are now 1-5 against conference competition overall. They’ll get another crack at trying to get their first divisional win in Week 12 against the Steelers at home.

The Bengals will be starting a new quarterback under center for the first time since 2020, when Burrow suffered a torn ACL 10 games into his rookie year. The new starting signal caller tasked with keeping their fleeting playoff hopes alive is fifth-year veteran Jake Browning. Browning led a pair of second-half scoring drives and went 8-of-14 for 68 passing yards and a touchdown against the Ravens in relief duty last week. He added 40 rushing yards on four scrambles as well.

Cincinnati’s initial injury report had a dozen players listed on it but nearly half of them were full participants. The three players who sat out were wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring), defensive tackle D.J. Reader (illness), and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (quad). The four limited participants were linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither (knee), defensive end Sam Hubbard (ankle), defensive tackle B.J. Hill (knee), and wide receiver Andrei Iosivas (knee).