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By: Joshua Reed
Taking a look ahead for the AFC North.
Baltimore Ravens (7-3)
Even though they remain in sole possession of first place in the current division standings, the Ravens now hold just a half-game lead after surrendering multiple double-digit leads in a Week 10 loss the the Cleveland Browns. Now they will play a second straight divisional game on a short week when they host the two-time defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11 on Thursday Night Football.
The Ravens went on the road and beat the Bengals 27-24 in Week 2 and will be looking to complete the season sweep for the first time since the 2020 season. While they are 2-4 against Cincinnati since then, including the playoffs, they are 2-2 over the past season and a half and would’ve likely been 3-1 had it not been for the infamous ‘Fumble in the Jungle’ play that thwarted their upset attempt in the Wildcard round of the 2022 postseason.
Both teams are entering this critical matchup with key players on both sides of the ball banged up and unlikely to play. For the Ravens, they’ve ruled out All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley with a knee injury, rookie linebacker Trenton Simpson with a concussion, and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey is listed as doubtful to play with a calf strain. Other players listed on the injury report but are likely to play despite having a questionable designation include wide receiver/returner Devin Duvernay (hamstring), right guard John Simpson (illness/shoulder), outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy (groin), and safety Daryl Worley (hamstring).
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
Despite being outgained for the ninth game in a row to start the season, the Steelers somehow find themselves three games over .500, in second place in the current division standings, and just half a game back behind the Ravens for the top spot. All of their victories have been decided by a touchdown or less. They are coming off a 23-19 home victory over the Green Bay Packers in Week 10 and will be hitting the road for a divisional clash with the Browns in Week 11.
The first meeting between the two teams took place in Week 2 as part of a Monday Night Football doubleheader. Cleveland outgained them 408-255 on offense but thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns by their elite outside linebacker tandem, they were able to emerge victorious 26-22. This time around, TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith will be looking to sack and pick off Browns fifth-round rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson following the season-ending injury suffered by two-time Pro Bowl starter Deshaun Watson in Week 11
Pittsburgh had several key veteran players on Wednesday’s injury report who did not participate in practice. The long list included wide receiver Diontae Johnson (thumb), veteran Patrick Peterson (non-injury rest), safety Keanu Neal (ribs), free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring), defensive tackle Montravius Adams (ankle), offensive guard Isaac Seumalo (non-injury resting), and defensive tackle Cam Heyward (groin). Third-year tight end Pat Freiermuth (hamstring) practiced for the first time since late September albeit on a limited basis.
Cleveland Browns (6-3)
As mentioned above, the Browns pulled off the biggest upset of Week 10 in what was truly a tale of two halves. After not being able to finish drives in the end zone during the first two quarters on three attempts, they recorded three touchdowns in the final two including one on defense on their way to the stunning victory that came at a huge cost with Watson now out for the remainder of the season.
They will be facing the Steelers for the second time this season and aiming to split the regular season series. Pittsburgh has won four of the last five since 2021 but even with a rookie backup quarterback under center, Cleveland should still have a good chance of competing with and even beating their division foe because of their top-ranked defense.
The Browns are heading into their second straight AFC North clash pretty banged up with a whopping 17 players listed on their injury report but several of them did not practice on Wednesday because they were given Non-Injury-Related Rest days. The list of players that were listed for actual injuries included wide receiver David Bell (knee), offensive guard Michael Dunn (calf), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion), offensive tackle Dawand Jones (knee), defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo (groin), running back Pierre Strong Jr. (hamstring), offensive guard Wyatt Teller (ankle), safety Juan Thornhill (calf), cornerback Denzel Ward (neck), and defensive end Alex Wright (knee).
Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)
The two-time defending AFC North champions currently find themselves in last place in the current standings, have yet to beat a divisional opponent, and only have one conference win altogether. They’re coming off a last-minute upset loss to the Houston Texans at home in Week 10 and now will traveling to Baltimore to play a crucial game on a short week in desperate need of a bounce-back victory.
In their first matchup with the Ravens in Week 2, the game wasn’t as close as the final box score indicated as they were never in control, never led but were tied twice, and their late comeback attempt came up short after they trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was struggling with a calf strain at the time that limited him but he has since recovered and has been playing much better over the past month as the team went 4-1 in their past five games after a 1-3 start to the season.
Cincinnati will be missing some key pieces on both sides of the ball as well as they have already ruled out wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring), defensive end Sam Hubbard (ankle), and rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas (knee). The only player they have listed as questionable is rookie receiver/returner Charlie Jones (thumb) and even though they removed two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson from the final injury report, he is dealing with a hyperextended knee he suffered on Sunday and will likely be limited to a degree.
Originally posted on Baltimore Beatdown – All Posts