(CBS Baltimore) — The AFC North is shaping up to be extremely competitive, at least in the early weeks of the season. The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers have all split their first two games The Ravens are coming off a huge win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. It was the first time that Lamar Jackson has beat the Chiefs in his young career. The Browns also picked up their first win at home against the Houston Texans. The Bengals and Steelers both lost tough ones.
In Week 3, the Bengals head to the Steel City to open the intra-division schedule. It will be a battle of offenses struggling to keep their quarterbacks upright and put their teams back on track. The Browns host the Chicago Bears, with rookie Justin Fields starting under center for the first time. And then the Ravens finally get a break from primetime, when they go out on the road against the Detroit Lions.
CBS Baltimore sports director Mark Viviano looks at the three AFC North matchups.
All times listed are Eastern.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, September 26 @ 1:00 p.m.
Ben Roethlisberger comes into the Bengals game with a left pec injury sustained in last week’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. He’s not the only one banged up. Outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, wide receiver Diontae Johnson and cornerback Joe Haden and inside linebacker Devin Bush also made the growing list.
Big Ben’s injury situation wasn’t helped by the offensive line play in front of him. The Raiders sacked him twice and knocked him down 10 times. Running back Najee Harris struggled to just 38 yards on 10 carries. The Steelers had just 29 yards as a team. They’ll face a Cincinnati run defense that held David Montgomery to 61 yards on 20 carries last week and Dalvin Cook to the same numbers in the week prior.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow doesn’t have much help in front of him either. “Poor Joe Burrow,” said Viviano. “He has no offensive line. I mean they’ve invested in a lot of things around him. But plus that, you would think after he got hurt, that would have been a priority for them. Clearly they missed out on that one.”
The Bears sacked Burrow five times in Week 2 and knocked him down plenty more times. The young quarterback didn’t help his cause either, tossing three picks on three consecutive passes. If Burrow can stay on his feet, he may find Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins (if he’s healthy) for some nice gains. The Steelers gave up 382 yards passing and two touchdowns Derek Carr last week.
“I think this can be a closer game than you might otherwise think,” Viviano speculated. “I see the Steelers pulling it out. They’re at home, they should win this. I see them winning by like six points. But without an offensive line on either side, there’s a lot of unpredictability going in.”
Chicago Bears @ Cleveland Browns, Sunday, September 26 @ 1:00 p.m.
The Bears’ Week 3 matchup with the Browns may mark the beginning of the Justin Fields era in Chicago. The rookie will start at quarterback after replacing the injured Andy Dalton in Week 2. A few years ago, the Bears similarly pinned their hopes on the now-gone Mitchell Trubisky.
“Mitch Trubisky got his first NFL start on the road in the AFC North and beat the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore,” Viviano recalled. “And in that game, he only threw 16 passes, completed eight of them, only threw for like 100 yards. But their defense won the game. So if you want to use a little history as a possible harbinger of good things for the Bears, you got that.”
The Bears may look to once again follow their defense instead of an inexperienced leader. That unit, led by Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, and Roquan Smith, made life difficult for Burrow and contained Joe Mixon on the ground last week.
The Browns will be without Jarvis Landry, who will miss three games or more with a knee injury. Odell Beckham Jr. could return to the field in Week 3, however. This Cleveland offense is built to run behind Nick Chubb. He has 178 yards and three touchdowns on 6.8 yards per carry in his first two games. And given how many receivers Baker Mayfield threw to last week, the offense has plenty of passing options.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Detroit Lions, Sunday, September 26 @ 1:00 p.m.
The Ravens finally overcame what quarterback Lamar Jackson has called their “kryptonite.” They beat the Mahomes-led Chiefs. “To be trailing by 11 points going into the fourth quarter and shut out in Kansas City in that fourth quarter, while scoring two touchdowns, that was something,” as Viviano tells it. “You could call it a signature win, but the team will tell you as they’ve been telling us, it only matters if they build on it.”
The Ravens will have their chance to build on it this week in Detroit against the Lions. Baltimore has struggled with injuries early on, losing three running backs for the season. But the running game has still thrived, largely because of Jackson’s playmaking ability with his feet. He had 86 yards on 12 carries against the Raiders and 107 yards on 16 carries against the Chiefs. Ty’Son Williams has also been productive out of the backfield in the first two weeks.
The Ravens have seemingly overcome issues along the offensive line. The unit that struggled to slow a Raiders pass rush in Week 1 improved against the Chiefs, leading to about 500 yards of offense. Alejandro Villanueva’s move to the left tackle in place of Ronnie Stanley was one of the reasons, as Viviano sees it.
The Lions have opened the season with two losses to two probable contenders. They allowed 41 points to the 49ers in Week 1 and 35 to the Packers in Week 2. The Ravens will look to continue that trend. But can a Lions offense now led by Jared Goff keep up? The former Ram has 584 passing yards and five touchdowns in his first two outings. The normally stout Ravens defense is giving up the most passing yards per game (376) through the first two games.
Viviano doesn’t see it. “The Ravens should finally, after two primetime games that were just nail-biters, they should finally have a Sunday afternoon breather,” he said. “And I see them beating the Lions by a couple of touchdowns. Any given Sunday, but this should be one that the Ravens handle well.”