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Audibles: AFC North Week 8 preview

10/24/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Oakland Raiders (2-4) at Baltimore Ravens (3-3), 1 p.m. ET

The Baltimore Ravens have a chance to put themselves above .500 for the first time this month against the Oakland Raiders.

Baltimore broke a three-game losing streak last week and aims to win two in a row for the second time this season. The NFL schedule finally lets up for the Ravens, but they have to take advantage of games like this if they want to be considered serious playoff contenders in the AFC.

The Ravens are ranked No. 2 in total defense and will be geared toward stopping Oakland's rushing attack led by Darren McFadden, who has 341 rushing yards and an average of 5.1 yards per carry. Baltimore, on the other hand, hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in an NFL-best 25 consecutive games.

Baltimore rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is coming off his best game last week against the Miami Dolphins. He isn't lighting it up statistically, but he has won three games so far and has Baltimore in position to make a run.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-7) at Houston Texans (2-4), 4:05 p.m. ET

If the Cincinnati Bengals want to win a game this year, this week would be a good time to do it.

The Bengals face one of the few winnable games on paper Sunday against the Houston Texans.

Cincinnati is staring at the first 0-8 start of the Marvin Lewis era. A loss Sunday to the Texans would catapult the Bengals into further peril. Their next six opponents after this week are playoff contenders.

Cedric Benson will get his second start for the Bengals. He took the job from Chris Perry last week and showed a decent burst in gaining 52 rushing yards in a 38-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick also will start for Cincinnati. He hasn't thrown an interception in his past two starts and has two touchdowns (one passing, one running) in that span.

Cleveland Browns (2-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3), 4:05 p.m. ET

Coming off a bye week, the Jacksonville Jaguars are quietly waiting to pounce on the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns spent most of the week dealing with the ongoing saga involving Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. He was suspended for this weekend's game without pay following his comments regarding the way the team handled his staph infection. Winslow filed a grievance to overturn the suspension, but it won't be settled until Tuesday.

No one in Cleveland is talking about Jacksonville, which serves the Jaguars just fine. They are coming off an impressive win over the Denver Broncos and had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Cleveland has been inconsistent all year and has yet to put together two good games in a row. Perhaps all the attention surrounding Winslow will take some of the pressure off quarterback Derek Anderson and receiver Braylon Edwards, both of whom are underachieving mightily after making the Pro Bowl last season.

New York Giants (5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1), 4:15 p.m. ET

In what could be a Super Bowl preview, the Pittsburgh Steelers host the New York Giants in one of the best games of the first half of the 2008 season.

New York's only loss came against the AFC North in a loss to Cleveland, and the Steelers traditionally match up well against the NFC at home. Pittsburgh has a nine-game winning streak against the NFC in Heinz Field and hasn't lost a home game against the opposing conference since 2003.

There are a plethora of interesting story lines in this game involving the quarterbacks and receivers.

In terms of quarterbacks, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and New York's Eli Manning were both jewels of the 2004 draft class. Both have a Super Bowl ring and are looking for more jewelry this year.

Sunday also marks the return of former Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress, who had an up-and-down tenure in Pittsburgh. Steelers starting receiver Santonio Holmes also was deactivated for this game after police found marijuana in his car during a traffic stop Thursday.