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Final Word: AFC North

9/24/2010

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco needs a solid outing Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. The third-year player had the worst performance of his career, throwing a career-high four interceptions in last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Flacco's didn't look comfortable and was pressing, particularly in the second half. He's off to a very slow start, throwing for 402 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions in Baltimore's first two games. Flacco's passer rating is 41.2.

A key reason Baltimore's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown is its ability to dominate on third down. In two games, the Ravens have held opponents to 4-for-29 (14 percent) on third-down conversions. That stuffs drives, helps Baltimore with field position, and gets the ball back in the hands of the offense.

One of the major issues with Cleveland's offense is its two starting receivers -- Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi -- cannot get open. Neither of the Browns' 2009 second-round picks has been fast enough nor experienced enough to shake free of coverage in the first two games. Robiskie and Massaquoi have been targeted 19 times and only produced five receptions combined this season. Backup Josh Cribbs has been the team's most explosive receiver. He caught a 65-yard touchdown reception last week in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Tight ends Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore have also made plays.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they must be wary of the warm weather. Tampa can be a hot place to play football this time of year. The temperature is expected to hover around the high-80s and lower-90s Sunday. There is also a 50 percent chance of rain. Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas told me after Cleveland's Week 1 loss to Tampa that it felt like it was 100 degrees on the field. AFC North teams aren't used to this kind of heat.

After facing two solid quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Flacco to start the season, the Cincinnati Bengals catch a break Sunday with Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen getting his first career start. The Bengals were relentless on defense last week and rattled Flacco. There's a good chance Cincinnati and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer can do the same against Clausen. The Notre Dame product threw for 59 yards and an interception in relief against Tampa Bay last week.