Final Word: AFC North

December, 17, 2010
12/17/10
4:00
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesThe Ravens have struggled to protect quarterback Joe Flacco the past three games.
Failing to protect Flacco: Something has gone terribly wrong with the Baltimore Ravens' pass protection. Once pretty solid, Baltimore's offensive line has allowed quarterback Joe Flacco to be sacked 13 times in the past three games. Baltimore allowed four or more sacks only once in the first 10 games. But Flacco has been sacked at least four times in three consecutive weeks against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. Lack of communication and poor recognition of blitzes are the primary reasons the Ravens are struggling up front. The New Orleans Saints have a blitz-happy defense and could cause a lot of problems for Baltimore's passing game.

Finishing strong: Despite a lot of criticism for blowing a 21-point lead in the second half against Houston, the Ravens have made no apologies for winning ugly. But one thing that is a concern is Baltimore's inability to finish teams late. The Ravens (9-4) have held fourth-quarter leads in all four losses this season. Also, in the past two weeks, Baltimore has been outscored 25-0 in the fourth quarter. An interception return for a touchdown by Josh Wilson saved the Ravens against the Texans last week in overtime. But they could make a big statement by playing four complete quarters Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champs.

The replacements: The Pittsburgh Steelers are banged up heading into their game against the New York Jets. Therefore, backups need to play well. Reserve tight end Matt Spaeth could start for Heath Miller (concussion) for the second straight game, and safeties Will Allen and Ryan Mundy are expected to fill in for the injured Troy Polamalu (lower leg). Spaeth struggled last week with one catch for four yards against the Cincinnati Bengals. He also had a dropped pass. Allen and Mundy have primarily played on special teams, but might have to fill in for Polamalu the next two games, because Pittsburgh has a short week and will play Dec. 23 against the Carolina Panthers.

Full circle: The Bengals will have an interesting revenge game this week against the Cleveland Browns. At 2-11, Cincinnati's NFL-high 10-game losing streak started Oct. 3 against Cleveland, and the Bengals have a chance to end it against the same opponent. It has been more than two months since Cincinnati last experienced a win, and frustration is at an all-time high. Bengals receiver Terrell Owens recently criticized ownership and the coaching staff for the team's losing ways, and injuries continue to mount. A win against an in-state and division rival would be a good remedy for Cincinnati's various issues for at least a week.

Bigger plays: If the Browns are to beat the Bengals, a key area Cleveland must improve is getting more big plays from its offense. The Browns are averaging 9.5 points in their past two games, and have only two offensive plays of 30 yards or more in that span. Both were receptions by receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, for 37 and 34 yards, respectively. Defenses do not fear Cleveland's passing game and have stacked the box to try to stop tailback Peyton Hillis, who has 1,070 yards rushing. With a quarterback change to rookie Colt McCoy, the Browns hope to have better success throwing downfield.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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AFC NORTH SCOREBOARD