AFC North: Previewing Week 12’s divisional matchups

In the final weekend of November football for teams across the NFL, Week 12 is likely to clearly define who among all AFC North teams have a real shot at postseason play. The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are outliers at this point who will face two teams in the bottom tier of the league – the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders respectively – and need wins this week if they hope to make any kind of playoff push. While the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers have given themselves good placement at the top of the division and ranked high in the conference, they’ll travel to altitude to take on a Denver Broncos team that would love to shock the boys in black and gold, as they have in the past (remember Tim Tebow?) and help their own cause. Here is your AFC North Week 12 preview:

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Battle for Ohio between Browns, Bengals

The tale of these two teams has read something like an improbable soap opera-type sports movie in 2018 and they’ll forever be linked together – not for both representing cities in Ohio or a shared orange jersey color – but for the drama that is, and continues to be, Hue Jackson. He left Berea and Lake Erie behind and went downriver to join Marvin Lewis, who is on his own hot-seat, setting the stage for a possible revenge match, of sorts, for players on the Browns (3-6-1) roster at a time when the Bengals (5-5) are trying to get above .500 late in the season. Get ready for a showdown on Sunday.

There’s been chatter that Jackson may give Lewis and the Bengals a leg-up due to his understanding of the Browns’ playbook, the ins-and-outs of players on the roster, etc. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has been desperately attempting to bring some life back to the Cleveland franchise, was asked about just that by Keth Britton of 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland. His response, per Britton?

Since Jackson joined the Bengals staff, the team has gone 0-2. No one is saying that Jackson has brought that south with him – at least not out loud – and truthfully, the Bengals have more concerns surrounding fielding a healthy roster than old grudges or potential curses. While the Browns listed three players on their injury report (David Njoku, Tavierre Thomas, and J.C. Tretter), the Bengals are still hoping to get A.J. Green (toe) and Cordy Glenn (back/spine) back on offense and have a long laundry list of injuries on the defensive side of the ball that has had a major impact on how they’ve played. Nick Vigil (knee) and Adolphus Washington (knee) did not practice on Monday and Josh Tupou (chest) was limited.

The injuries led Cincinnati to make five roster moves on Tuesday, including placing linebacker Preston Brown (knee) on injured/reserved. In his spot, the team signed free agent defensive end Kasim Edebali. Rookie defensive end Andrew Brown (hand) was moved to the practice squad/injured list while defensive end Aaron Wallace and wide receiver Hunter Sharp were added to the practice squad. Edebali has been listed as a linebacker while with other teams he has done stints with since going undrafted out of Boston College in 2014 and being signed by the New Orleans Saints. The Bengals also worked out former Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett, among other athletes, this week ahead of their meeting with Cleveland.

Cleveland would love to grab their fourth win of the season against division rival Cincinnati this weekend. Four wins is a feat the Browns have not seen since Mike Pettine was head coach during the 2014 NFL season. The Browns were atop the AFC North in Week 12 with a 7-4 win-loss record. Cincinnati, however, is determined that they sound the alert after surrendering 403 yards to the Ravens’ offense (including 250 in the ground) and responding with less than 300 offensive yards of their own for the fourth time in five weeks.

Game Info
Date: Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. (EST)*
Location: Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati, OH)
TV: CBS, (WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV in Dayton, WKYT-TV in Lexington) – Viewing Map
Radio: ESPN 850 • 92.3 The Fan • 98.5 WNCX (Cleveland Market); Bengals Radio Network (WLW-AM 700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530), WEBN-FM 102.7 (Cincinnati Market)

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Ravens favored over struggling Raiders

The fact that Las Vegas odds-makers have the Ravens as double-digit favorites over the Raiders does not bode well for Oakland. Until their 23-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11, the Raiders were on a five-game losing streak and doing so by an average of 19.8 points-per-game. These two teams have only met each other 11 times, including the past three seasons. In 2017, the Ravens won by a score of 30-17 with Joe Flacco under center. With rookie Lamar Jackson expected to make his second start this weekend, the arrow for Baltimore is trending up.

After a close win over the Bengals last week, the Ravens (5-5) moved to second place in the division and are back in the mix of the AFC playoff picture. On paper, the Raiders (2-8) look like a statistical mismatch for Baltimore, but Jackson is still not a tried-and-true tested quarterback yet and the Ravens are still looking for an identity as the rollercoaster ride on both sides of the ball continues. Baltimore has had a history of dropping games like the one they will enter in Week 12. Yes, the Raiders look like they’re in free-fall mode, but they’d love to pull off another upset.

After utilizing a heavy dose of the run against the Bengals, Baltimore would like to get Jackson more involved in the pass against Oakland. In his NFL debut, Jackson completed 13-of-19 passes for 150 yards and five went to Willie Snead VI for 51 yards. Snead was visibly upset on the sideline and it was alleged that he was especially angry that Marty Mornhinweg chose to go to a run-heavy scheme last weekend that resulted in the two having a heated argument on the sideline.

“Emotions come out sometimes that we have to be able to control. We left that in the last game,” Snead said this week. “Our offense is evolving. We had never been in there with Lamar [Jackson]. If he gets the start this week, I think guys will be a little more settled in… We all want to contribute as much as we can.

Jordy Nelson may not be ready to return by Sunday, meaning more will be asked of Raiders receiver Marcell Ateman. The rookie had his NFL debut against the Cardinals in Week 11, grabbing for receptions for 50 yards and a critical play in the drive that set up Daniel Carlson‘s game-winning field goal. How he stacks up against the Ravens’ defensive secondary should be an interesting matchup to watch.

Game Info
Date: Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. (EST)*
Location: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore, MD)
Radio: 98 Rock | WBAL 1090 AM (Baltimore Market)

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Steelers need to shake off ghosts of Denver past

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn’t shy about admitting the reason he wears jersey No. 7 is because of John Elway, the guy who led the Denver Broncos to so many victories and who sits in ninth place in the NFL’s all-time passing records with 51,475 career yards. Big Ben has since surpassed Elway to take seventh place in yards (54,267) and completions (4,435). That doesn’t mean that Roethlisberger has forgotten about games in NFL seasons past that have haunted the Steelers a bit. But if fans would rather focus on the good, instead, it was in Denver (Jan. 22, 2006) that Roethlisberger was able to lead the Steelers to victory that vaulted them to Super Bowl XL where they went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks.

“That championship game was unbelievable,” Roethlisberger said this week in an interview.

The Steelers would love to shake off any negativity and ride their current win streak like a freight train on Sunday. As Mike Pelaia said in his recent article:

“The Broncos are 4-6 thus far and are playing for their season but are much better than their record indicates. They are 0-4 against the Chiefs (twice), Rams and Texans and have lost those four games by a combined total of 16 points. Four points per game against those teams isn’t bad at all. Denver just put up a victory in Los Angeles over the Chargers and are certainly a dangerous team for the Steelers to have to play. Yet, with the Steelers riding a six-game winning streak and an undefeated road record here in 2018, I think they’ll continue both streaks this week, with a close victory, 23-17.”


Game Info
Date: Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. (EST)*
Location: Broncos Stadium at Mile High (Denver, CO)
TV: CBS – KDKA-TV (Pittsburgh Market) –  Viewing Map
Radio: Steelers Nation Radio – Steelers Radio Network (Pittsburgh Market); KOA NewsRadio (Denver Market)

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