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AFC North Preview: Week 2

A week of divisional matchups in the AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens (1-0)

The Baltimore Ravens exited Week 1 with a victory but at the cost of multiple key players coming down with injuries. The Ravens will now hit the road for their first divisional game of the season in Cincinnati against the Bengals.

On top of running back J.K. Dobbins (Achilles) and safety Marcus Williams (pectoral), Baltimore will potentially be without left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), center Tyler Linderbaum (ankle), and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (foot) this Sunday. It appears that tight end Mark Andrews could make his season debut after missing Week 1 with a quad injury.

The Ravens’ defense fared quite well against Cincinnati in three meetings last year under defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Baltimore was able to limit quarterback Joe Burrow from hitting explosive passing plays to his talented wide receiver corps, holding him to just 641 passing yards, three touchdowns, and an interception in their three meetings.

The Ravens’ offensive line had trouble protecting quarterback Lamar Jackson against the Texans even before the injuries to Stanley and Linderbaum. Baltimore will need the unit to perform better this week with defensive tackle D.J. Reader and defensive end Trey Hendrickson on the other side for the Bengals.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)

Cincinnati was trounced on the road to start their season, losing 24-3 to the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals will look to rebound in their home opener this Sunday against the Ravens.

The good news for Cincinnati is that they escaped Week 1 without any major injuries. On the flip side, the worst part of Sunday’s loss for the Bengals was that their offensive line failed to protect Burrow for much of the day, something that has been an unfortunate common theme throughout his young career with the team.

New left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was signed this offseason to shore up Burrow’s blindside and will face his original team this Sunday. Baltimore generated five sacks in their Week 1 win, so Brown and the rest of the offensive line will have their hands full. On the other hand, Cincinnati will be facing an offensive line that struggled in pass protection while losing two of their starters in Week 1. Reader and Hendrickson in particular will have a prime opportunity to shine against a backup left tackle and center.

The Bengals started slowly last season as well, losing their first two games but still making a trip to the AFC Championship in the end. That does not mean that an 0-2 start this season, particularly considering that both would be divisional losses, would not be a difficult hole to find themselves in to start the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the season riding high on the potential of a dangerous offense with second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett at the helm to go with their strong defense. Reality set in quickly for the Steelers, however, as they fell 30-7 to the San Francisco 49ers at home. They will look to turn the page quickly as they hit the road for another divisional showdown on Monday Night Football against the Browns.

Unlike Cincinnati, Pittsburgh was not able to escape their Week 1 beating with a clean bill of health. After electing to have surgery for a groin injury suffered against the 49ers, star defensive tackle Cameron Heyward is expected to miss up to eight weeks. Meanwhile, wide receiver Diontae Johnson is expected to miss up to four weeks with a hamstring injury. There is optimism that tight end Pat Freiermuth (chest) will play this Monday against Cleveland.

Pickett and the rest of the offense will have to perform better this week against a Browns’ defense that dismantled the Bengals in Week 1. Without Johnson in the lineup, second-year wide receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III will be relied upon heavily alongside veteran Allen Robinson II in the passing game.

Cleveland Browns (1-0)

Cleveland left Week 1 feeling pretty good after a dominant win over a divisional rival at home. The Browns now have a chance to start 2-0 in the division as they face the Steelers on the road on Monday Night Football.

Cleveland suffered a massive injury in their Week 1 victory as right tackle Jack Conklin was lost for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. Rookie fourth-rounder Dawand Jones replaced Conklin for the rest of the game. Jones will have the test of his life against outside linebacker T.J. Watt in his first NFL start this week. Watt is coming off a three-sack performance against San Francisco. On the other side of the offensive line, left tackle Jedrick Wills will have his hands full with outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. Even without Heyward in the middle of the defensive line, Pittsburgh’s pass rush still presents a massive challenge.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson opened the season with an up-and-down performance, but the rainy conditions certainly played a part in both team’s ability to pass the ball effectively. Watson will need to perform better though after a poor first season with the team in 2022, and that can start on primetime this week.