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AFC North Preview: Week 4

A battle for first place

Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens (2-1)

After squandering away a game against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens will hit the road for an upcoming stretch of divisional games, starting with the Cleveland Browns this Sunday.

The Ravens have been ravaged by injuries through the first three weeks of the season. They did receive some good news this week, though, as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, center Tyler Linderbaum, free safety Marcus Williams, and running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill all returned to practice. On the flip side, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman, and outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo have not returned. The team signed veteran outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy to the practice squad this week but it is unclear if he will be ready to play this Sunday.

After struggling in Week 3, Baltimore’s offense will face perhaps their toughest challenge yet against Cleveland’s No. 1 ranked defense. More than any other player, the Ravens will have to be prepared for defensive end Myles Garrett. The All-Pro is coming off a monster performance with 3.5 sacks against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3. As if Garrett by himself is not enough to handle, former Baltimore pass rusher Za’Darius Smith presents another massive challenge on the other side of the defensive line.

Cleveland Browns (2-1)

After improving to 2-1 with a win over the Titans in Week 3, the Browns will host the Ravens in a divisional showdown to decide who takes first place in the division.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson has been limited in practice this week with a shoulder injury, although he is expected to play on Sunday against Baltimore. Watson is coming off his best performance of the season but will face a stingy Ravens defense this week. Former Cleveland defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will be looking to make his mark against his former team after a strong start to the season for Baltimore. Clowney will likely see a lot of rookie right tackle Dawand Jones. The fourth-rounder has played well in place of the injured Tyler Conklin.

Defensively, the Browns will look to make life difficult for quarterback Lamar Jackson behind an offensive line that may be down two starters this week. Garrett in particular could have a prime opportunity to take over the game if he faces backup left tackle Patrick Mekari. Keeping a lid on explosive rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers will also be important, as Jackson has already shown a proclivity for going his direction with the football.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)

Following a win over the Las Vegas Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers will stay on the road to face the Houston Texans on Sunday.

The Steelers’ offense had its best showing last week against the Raiders, as second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett passed for 235 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers. Second-year wide receiver Calvin Austin III stepped up with two receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown. Austin and fellow sophomore receiver George Pickens will need to continue carrying the load while Diontae Johnson remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. Pittsburgh’s offense will continue to be under heavy scrutiny with offensive coordinator Matt Canada at the helm.

The Steelers’ defense will face rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud this week against the Texans. Despite playing behind an injured offensive line, Stroud has been impressive through his first three NFL games. If any player can take advantage of a poor offensive line, however, it is outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who already has six sacks on the season for Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)

The Cincinnati Bengals got their first win of the season in Week 3 against the Los Angeles Rams. The Bengals will now travel to face the Tennessee Titans.

Quarterback Joe Burrow continues to deal with a calf injury that sidelined him for training camp and was reaggravated at the end of the team’s Week 2 loss to the Ravens.

“It will get better each week I don’t have a setback,” Burrow said regarding his calf injury. “It’s big to get through Monday without any setbacks. That means it will be stronger this week and if I get through this week without having any setbacks, it will be stronger the next week. All you can do is rest it and take time. But I’m going to continue to play and continue to practice and it will get stronger throughout the year.”

The biggest positive from Cincinnati’s victory in Week 3 was the performance of wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. The star wideout exploded for 141 receiving yards on 12 catches after being held to under 40 yards in each of the first two games of the season. Burrow and Chase regaining form will be pivotal for the Bengals to pull themselves out of the rut they started the season in. They will face a Titans’ defense this week that has allowed the sixth most yards through the first three weeks of the season.