Every week, Steel City Underground will preview the Pittsburgh Steelers' AFC North rivals and the opponents those division challengers will go head-to-head against in our 'Rival Report'.
Cleveland hosts Tennessee
There has been a lot of hype during the offseason throughout the preseason about how the Cleveland Browns have improved by leaps and bounds. Talent, however, has to translate to wins on the football field. The Browns were able to exit the preseason 3-1 after facing the Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Detroit Lions, but NFL fans all know that preseason is a far cry from the regular season.
On Sunday, the Browns will take their first step towards trying to prove doubters wrong when they host the Tennessee Titans. With the AFC North a highly competitive division, the Browns want to get off to a hot start. The Titans just missed the playoffs in 2018 and could be a surprisingly competitive team this season if they can keep Marcus Mariota healthy and intensify their defense.
With the Browns keeping just 47 players from training camps for their 53-man roster and filling in their roster with six players - three from the waiver wire (Malik Jefferson, Ricky Seals-Jones, KhaDarel Hodge) and three via trade at the cost of four draft picks (Wyatt Teller, Justin McCray, Taywan Taylor) - John Dorsey must have realized the early predictions of a deep roster weren't going to come to fruition without some addition after subtraction. The significance of the moves may seem to point at the Browns believing this is "their year" because future draft picks aren't things many teams are happy to just toss on a negotiating table.
Without Taylor Lewan at left tackle (suspension for PEDs), the Browns will look to key in on Dennis Kelly and keep Mariota and the Titans' run game contained. Myles Garrett is poised for a big year, and fellow defensive lineman Olivier Vernon thinks the Browns defense will be "explosive" this season.
"Now it's just time to work together and make something happen." - O. Vernon
Game Info: Sun 09/08 · 1:00 PM EDT (FirstEnergy Stadium)
- TV: CBS
- Radio: ESPN 850 • 92.3 The Fan • 98.5 WNCX
Cincinnati on the road in Seattle
The Bengals open the season on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. After losing all but one game during the preseason, Cincinnati is hoping to put their past issues firmly in the rear-view. By keeping nearly 75 percent of their squad on their current 53-man roster, the Bengals are banking on experience.
The Bengals' offensive line will be on notice due to Seattle adding Jadeveon Clowney via trade to their roster. Cincinnati will need the guys up front to stand strong to keep the offense moving and get their own pressure players onto the field to keep Russell Wilson and company from blowing up the scoreboard.
With the Seahawks unbeaten in a home opener since Wilson and Pete Carroll have been paired together, Geno Atkins will be called upon as a team captain this season to get the defense rolling in the right direction. Atkins and Carl Lawson will work in tandem to also keep Chris Carson from breaking loose for big runs.
“It’s all about what we do Sunday. I think we’ll play smart, fast and physical. I think we’ll be relentless. What it’s going to come down to is how we do in our one-on-one battles. It’s as simple as that. One-on-one and let the chips fall where they may.” - Nick Eason, Bengals D-line coach
Head coach Zac Taylor expressed confidence in his team despite the success Seattle has had in the past. He told the media that if there was one thing the Bengals would be this week, it would be that they were "very prepared" for their first real test on Sunday. "We're excited to match (Seattle's) intensity," Taylor said. "Mental toughness is a key characteristic that we want in all of our players.”
Game Info: Sun 09/08 · 4:05 PM EDT (CenturyLink Field)
- TV: CBS
- Radio: 700WLW • ESPN 1530 • 102.7 WEBN
Baltimore on the road in Miami
The Ravens took advantage of their league-leading defense in 2018 to win the AFC North and reach the playoffs after a four-year drought. With Lamar Jackson now their QB1, the Ravens are looking to transition to another level this season on both offense and defense - and that starts against the Dolphins.
The Ravens will be facing a Dolphins team that has basically been gutted and is led by rookie coach Brian Flores. The player purge didn't end during the offseason as there was a run on sales of the Miami roster as late as last week. Only 22 of the team's 53 players were on last season's roster; Kenny Stills, Kiko Alonso, and Laremy Tunsil all departed as the Dolphins grabbed NFL Draft future picks. With thirteen players joining the team in the last ten days, there is little confidence that Miami will give Baltimore much trouble in securing a win.
36-year-old veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will run Miami's offense. When he throws a pass on Sunday, it will be with his eighth team (NFL record) in 15 seasons in the league. With the well-traveled will be a roster that may be the youngest across the league, or very close to it.
" I grew a lot from last year, I just can’t wait to go out there and perform.” - Ravens QB, L. Jackson
Game Info: Sun 09/08 · 1:00 PM EDT (Hard Rock Stadium)
- TV: CBS
- Radio: 98 ROCK • WBAL 1090 AM • 101.5 FM