(CBS Pittsburgh) — It seems that no one wants to win the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens were knocked out by the Miami Dolphins in Week 10. The Pittsburgh Steelers stumbled to a draw with the (yet) scoreless Detroit Lions. And the Cleveland Browns were dominated by the New England Patriots. Only the Cincinnati Bengals have an excuse, they had a week off. But their performances in the two weeks before were not very promising.
This week, all four teams have another chance to make their case in the open division. The Browns receive the humble Lions. The Ravens meet the Chicago Bears. The Bengals draw the Las Vegas Raiders. And the Steelers go to Los Angeles to play the Chargers.
All times listed are Eastern.
Detroit Lions @ Cleveland Browns, Sunday, November 21, 1:00 PM
Some predicted that the Cleveland Browns could be a contender in the AFC North. And while that may yet come true, little about their performance thus far inspires much confidence. They have lost to good teams and beeped past mediocre and bad teams. A week 9 outburst from divisional rival Bengal is really the only exception to this pattern. Last week they were thoroughly dominated by the New England Patriots and rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
Injuries and the distraction of Odell Beckham Jr. have not helped. But the first is a mid-season problem that many teams face. According to Hartstein, “Although Baker Mayfield has a knee injury, a shoulder injury and another injury that I don’t even remember right now, he is expected to start. Hopefully Nick Chubb comes back from the COVID roster. That would be a huge boost for the attack. But Donovan Peoples-Jones, who is actually starting now with OBJ out of town, stumbled out with an injury on Wednesday. So you have to keep an eye on his status for the Browns attack.”
Of course, Mayfield’s availability does not guarantee that the Browns attack will appear. The Browns had only seven points in the Patriots’ game, of which he played a part. And a healthy Case Keenum isn’t necessarily a better option. Kareem Hunt will remain on the injured reserve and Nick Chubb will not be allowed to play either. D’Ernest Johnson has proven to be a capable fill-in, averaging over five yards per carry when getting a good chunk of carries. He must feast on a Lions defense giving up 135.7 yards per game on the ground.
The Lions should be happy that they finally didn’t lose a game. But of course that’s not the same as winning. Detroit tied for Pittsburgh, which played without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And like the rest of their season, it wasn’t exactly pretty. But there were some bright spots. D’Andre Swift ran 130 yards on 33 carries, more yards than Jared Goff threw. Goff looks likely to be in week 11 with an oblique injury.
“Detroit will probably be without Jared Goff,” Bell noted. And they’re not going to start their number two quarterback David Blough. Are they refueling? What are they up to? Tim Boyle, unfinished from Eastern Kentucky, was with the Packers for three years. It looks like he will start, and we see the market reacting. This number all the way from 10, looking at 11.5 or 12 for the Browns. To put a number like that, even against an unknown quarterback, goes a bit too far with how the Browns have performed offensively.”
Baltimore Ravens @ Chicago Bears, Sunday, November 21, 1:00 p.m. on CBS
The Ravens, at 6-3, are still atop the messy AFC North, but they are coming off a shocking loss to the Miami Dolphins. Lamar Jackson continues to play at an MVP-worthy level, albeit with less help from his teammates. At times he seemed to carry the team to the victories on his own shoulders. However, Jackson can’t do everything.
The Ravens defense, in particular, has not lived up to the high standards of recent seasons. They featured an unusual attack from dolphins last week, but Jacoby Brissett and Tua Tagovailoa combined 314 meters through the air. The defense also failed to get the ball back into Jackson’s capable hands late in the fourth quarter, after he narrowed the lead to five. Two weeks before they let Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals pile up 416 yards passing and three touchdowns in a blowout loss. The generally strong unit lists an NFL-worst 283.3 passing yards per game.
They go to Chicago alongside the Bears and young quarterback Justin Fields. The Bears entered their farewell week after losing four in a row and essentially moving away from the fray in the NFC North. But there were some positives. Fields, while not the immediate savior fans may have hoped for, is making strides. His Week 9 show – 17-29 for 291 yards, one TD and one INT – is arguably his best of the season yet.
“They looked really good and competitive in that game in Pittsburgh,” Hartstein said. “Justin Fields is starting to make progress against a Ravens defense that has been giving up a ton of big plays and making just seven substitutions this entire season – five interceptions and two fumbles recovered. They are minus-five in sales difference. Usually this team is plus margin on sales. So that’s a lot of points to make. And the one thing you should always check is Lamar Jackson’s status. He was out on Wednesday with a non-COVID illness. Most likely, he will be fine and will play. But if I had to choose now, I’d take the Bears. But untill now. just stay away.”
Cincinnati Bengals @ Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Nov. 21, 4:05 p.m. on CBS
The Bengals, like the Bears, also come out of a bye. And that week away couldn’t have come soon enough. In their previous two games, they gave up 34 points to the now 2-7 New York Jets and 41 points to the struggling Browns.
“I think they’re going to make some changes defensively,” Hartstein speculated. “Eli Apple giving up big game after big game may not be in the starting lineup.”
But will that be enough to keep up with the Raiders and stay competitive in the AFC North? “They have a terrible history that spirals out of control, five consecutive losses, most of them in a blowout,” Hartstein noted. “That was an important topic in the Bengal camp this week. They are determined to stop that sequence. And I think they have the right match-up against this Raiders team.”
The Raiders try to come back from a terrible loss against the Kansas City Chiefs. And while the Chiefs have had issues of their own this season, they are still the defending AFC champions, with an offense capable of taking a lot of points in a hurray. Mahomes showed that in Week 9 he went 35-50 for 406 yards and five touchdowns.
“We’ve seen what the Chiefs have done with those Raiders,” Hartstein said. “And then you look at the Bengals, with Ja’Marr Chase and all the guns that Joe Burrow has. I think it’s a good place for the Bengals.”
Burrow has realized some of the potential that made Bengals fans so excited before his injury last season. And the addition of wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase only helped. Chase is fifth in the NFL in receiving yards, 835 yards to date. He should be able to add something to that this week.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, November 21, 8:20 PM
The Steelers and Chargers are both in second place in their respective divisions participating in this matchup. With plenty of offensive talent to watch out for, Hartstein sees Steelers running back Najee Harris as the man to watch out for.
“The key is really Najee Harris,” Hartstein said. “He’s taking on the worst defense in all of football and we know Pittsburgh wants him to touch the ball 25-30 times a game, and they’re running this kid into the ground. But this is a perfect week for him to take the Chargers to dominate.”
For the Chargers, sophomore Justin Herbert struggled against Minnesota last week, completing just 58.8% of his passes and shooting less than 200 yards through the air for the second time this season. He will struggle this week against a Steelers D who is currently 6th in the NFL by the pass.
Which choices can you make with confidence and which Super Bowl contender will go down hard this week? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread, all from a model that has brought in nearly $7,500 since its inception, and find out.