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Final Word: AFC North

9/23/2011

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Rebound for Ravens: This will show whether the Ravens learned their lesson in taking a less-talented team lightly. This is also a potential bounce-back game for quarterback Joe Flacco. The last time he completed fewer than half his passes in a game (Week 2 of last season), he came back the next week to throw three touchdowns against the Browns. It'll be interesting to see whether Flacco responds the same way this time.

Focus for Bengals: The Bengals' week has included putting their slot receiver (Jordan Shipley) on injured reserve, dealing with wide receiver Jerome Simpson getting detained in a reported marijuana-related incident and finding out running back Cedric Benson could miss three games in October because of a NFL suspension. How the Bengals handle these distractions will tell a lot about a team that is starting over in many ways with a young quarterback and wide receiver. The home opener against San Francisco is blacked out. The Bengals understand they have work to do to convince their fan base.

Pressure for Pittsburgh: The Steelers' trademark on defense has been the harassment of quarterbacks, forcing them into poor throws and timely turnovers. So far this season, the only consistent pressure by Pittsburgh came in the meaningless fourth quarter of last Sunday's shutout of the Seattle Seahawks. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley need to ramp up the heat against Indianapolis' Kerry Collins, who is extremely mistake-prone after taking a few hits. This could lead to some easy scores for Pittsburgh.

Red zone advantage: The Browns have been stingy defending their turf inside the 20-yard line. Cleveland is tied for third in red zone defense this year and didn't give up a touchdown this past Sunday until there were 24 seconds left in the game. Among the many problems for the Dolphins has been punching the ball into the end zone. Miami coach Tony Sparano said his offense has made the eighth-most negative plays in the red zone.

Strength against strength: The best friend for a young quarterback such as Andy Dalton is a strong running game. Under coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 31-2 when one of their running backs gets at least 25 carries. Cincinnati's commitment to the run is going to get tested against the 49ers, who haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 24 straight games -- the longest current streak in the NFL.