By Kate Arhar // @ClvlndK8
Week 4 was all about AFC North division matchups.
Between the hard-fought ground battle in Baltimore between the Ravens (2-2) and the Cleveland Browns (2-2), to the Monday Night Football showcase of two winless teams, Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3) vs Cincinnati Bengals (0-4), the AFC North is a division undergoing a huge transformation.
How did this week’s games impact the division standings – and what do the upcoming weeks have in store for these hard grinding teams?
Let’s take a look at the first quarter of the 2019 season for this division…
Full disclosure: I’m a Browns fan. While this should come as no surprise to you, I want to be clear up front. I’ll try my best to be objective about this division overall, but if you sense my “homerism” just a bit, I won’t be surprised.
40 – 25
And much like last week’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens were never actually close. At least not after the Browns took over this game in the 3rd quarter. If you read this column regularly – and why wouldn’t you? – in my preview last week I said this game would come down to the run and whoever got the most ground yards would win. Guess what – I was Right! Browns ground out 193 yards to the Ravens’s 163! Four of the Browns five touchdowns came from rushes. The Raven had three TDs, all from passes. Whodathunkit?
While the Ravens were busy double-teaming wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr, teammate WR Jarvis Landry took his moments in the sun. Racking up 167 yards – including a 65 yard stunner – he made the defense pay and when he finally drew their attention, it was running back Nick Chubb who ate up the field. Chubb had an amazing 165 yards of his own with three TDs, including the one below which is the 3rd longest in franchise history.
Nick Chubb reached 21.95 MPH on this 88-yard TD run, the fastest speed reached on a touchdown this season.@NickChubb21 sustained 21+ MPH for 44.4 yards, from the Browns 33 yard line to the Ravens 21 yard line.#CLEvsBAL | #Browns pic.twitter.com/AARpBPGS3H
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 29, 2019
The standings now show the Browns in first place, since they obviously own the tie breaker vs the Ravens at this point. But they don’t see any more division opponents until week 11 as they finish the year with five out of their last seven games against the AFC North. With WR Antonio Callaway returning from his four game suspension this week, and RB Kareem Hunt returning in Week 10, the end of the year will be huge for this division.
The Ravens, however, have three back-to-back divisions games, week 5 at Pittsburgh and then week 6 hosting Cincinnati. The bye in week 7 couldn’t come at a better time for them. And their last two weeks of the year are against Pittsburgh and Cleveland! I guess the NFL scheduling department does indeed know how to put together some suspenseful endings!
Monday Night Football. All football fans eyes are on the “Battle of the 0-3’s.” The Bengals started the game with the first score: field goal. And then they pretty much went home. Not literally, but it was all Steelers after that. The half-time score of 10-3 made the game seem competitive, but mid-way through the 3rd quarter, I realized that the Bengals were no match for their opponent, no matter how depleted by injury and off-season moves the Steelers might be.
The loss of QB Ben Roethilsberger for the season lended itself to many dire predictions about how the team would fare, but Mason Rudolph has stepped up and it trying to make this team his own. RB James Conner had 42 rushing yards, but it was his 83 receiving yards and a touchdown where he proved invaluable to Rudolph, who ended up going 24/28 with 229 yards and two TDs.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton looked uncomfortable most of the night but without that special something the injured WR A.J. Green brings to the field, he isn’t really connecting with anyone else. Going 21/37 for 171 yards and no TDs, Dalton threw one interception and was sacked eight times. Let me repeat that one for you: DALTON WAS SACKED 8 TIMES! I know the Steelers defense is good, but it’s not that good. Clearly this Bengals O-Line needs some work because you simply can’t expect to win games when your QB spends all his time on the turf.
— TCross24 ⚾ (@tcross_24) October 1, 2019
Next up: Steelers host Baltimore, then travel to Los Angeles to face the Chargers before their week 7 bye. The second half of their season is fairly balanced, with two Cleveland games and one Cincinnati game in the middle before facing the Ravens in the very last week.
The Bengals schedule, however, it’s pretty. With no prime-time games, at least they can lose themselves in the 1:00 mayhem for most of the remainder of the year. They don’t have a bye until week 9 but they’ll be traveling to Baltimore and hosting Arizona, Jacksonville and the LA Rams before then. I’d like to think they’ve got a shot at winning their first game week 5 against the Cardinals, but with this team, who knows?
Talk AFC North with Kate on Twitter // @ClvlndK8