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AFC North Preview, Week 15: Ravens in primetime, Bengals and Browns take on NFC foes

Taking a look ahead for the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens (10-3)

The division-leading Ravens are coming off their most exhilarating game of the season in a 37-31 overtime win. Now, they’ll be facing the Jacksonville Jaguars for the second road primetime game in their last three games. This clash between AFC division leaders features a team atop the conference while the other is reeling after dropping their last two games to AFC North opponents.

This will be the second year in a row that these two teams will play in Duval County. Last year’s matchup occurred in Week 12, which saw the Jaguars mount a second-half comeback to stun the Ravens 28-27 in their biggest win of the regular season. It turned their entire season around and they would eventually pull off an historic comeback in the Wildcard round of the playoffs, where they erased a 27-2 deficit against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Ravens head into this game astonishingly healthy given this stretch of the season is when injuries begin to pile up. They had perfect attendance at practice on Wednesday and backup quarterback Tyler Huntley was the only player absent from Thursday’s practice, but it was due to personal reasons and not injury.

Of the four other players listed on the latest injury report, second-year breakout safety Kyle Hamilton (knee) was the only limited participant while linebackers Roquan Smith (back), Malik Harrison (groin), and Malik Hamm (ankle) were all full participants.

Cleveland Browns (8-5)

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the resilient Browns are beginning to look like a dangerous team down the stretch with former Ravens’ franchise quarterback Joe Flacco under center. They are coming off their second most impressive win of the season and the most encouraging since two-time Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

The Browns will be staying home this week as the only AFC North team playing in the Sunday afternoon slate. They’ll host the Chicago Bears, who are coming off their second straight victory and are playing well. This will be the first meeting between the two teams since the 2021 season, when the Browns won 26-6. Prior to that, the Bears won the last three matchups dating back to 2009.

The players who did not take the practice field on Thursday included defensive tackle Jordan Elliott (concussion), offensive guard Joe Bitonio (knee), DE Ogbo Okoronkwo (pectoral), tight end David Njoku (knee), center Ethan Pocic (stinger), free safety Juan Thornhill (calf), and running back Pierre Strong (illness). Defensive end Myles Garrett (rest, shoulder) and wide receiver Amari Cooper (rest, ribs) were the only players dealing with a minor injuries who were full participants. The Browns’ short list of limited participants includes the following:

  • RB Kareem Hunt (groin)
  • RB Jerome Ford (wrist)
  • LB Anthony Walker (rest, knee)
  • CB Denzel Ward (shoulder)
  • LB Jordan Kunaszyk (calf)

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6)

After becoming the first team in NFL history to be over .500 to lose back-to-back games to teams eight or more games under .500, the Steelers are reeling. They desperately need to get back on track to keep their playoff hopes from slipping through their fingers. They will be one of two AFC North teams playing on Saturday when they hit the road to take on the Indianapolis Colts. .

This will be the second straight season that these two teams face and the eighth meeting between them since the 2011 season. The Steelers have won the previous seven games. Last year’s matchup came on Monday Night Football in Week 12 and resulted in a 24-17 win for Pittsburgh. Both teams currently occupy Wildcard spots in the current AFC playoff picture. This game could go a long way in deciding who gets the edge over the other via the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Steelers had 11 players listed on their injury report this week and all but two were full participants in the final practice of the week on Thursday. Offensive guard Isaac Seumalo did not practice all week with a shoulder injury but is listed as questionable to play, while second-year quarterback Kenny Picket was unsurprisingly ruled out with his surgically repaired ankle.

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)

The two-time defending AFC North champions remain in last place for the time being but are trending in the right direction. They’ve won back-to-back games with fifth-year veteran quarterback Jake Browning under center. The Bengals scored 30+ points in consecutive weeks for the first time this season, a feat they didn’t achieve with franchise quarterback Joe Burrow before he was lost for the rest of the season. They’ll be the first of two AFC North teams playing on Saturday when they host the Minnesota Vikings.

This will be the first meeting between the two teams since the 2021 season. They’ve traded wins in their last eight matchups dating back to last century, when the Vikings won in 1992 and 1989. Instead of a faceoff between Pro Bowl quarterbacks with both Burrow and Kirk Cousins on season-ending injured reserve, this matchup will feature a pair of streaky backups. It will be Browning and fellow veteran journeyman Nick Mullens, who was recently named the Vikings’ starter for this game.

The Bengals had seven players listed on their injury report this week and all but one was a full participant in the final practice of the week on Thursday. Backup off-ball linebacker Joe Bachie (oblique) was the only limited participant and is listed as questionable to play.