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Friday, September 9, 2011
Final Word: AFC North

By James Walker

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

Getting over the hump: The Baltimore Ravens have somewhat downplayed the big-picture significance of this week's matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, it's just one game. But it's also an opportunity for the Ravens to make a huge statement. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had Baltimore's number. Pittsburgh has beaten the Ravens in all the significant games the past few years, including two postseason games after the 2008 and 2010 seasons. If the Ravens want to win the AFC North, they have to get over the Steelers hump eventually. Week 1 would be a good time for Baltimore to get over that hurdle.

Ben Roethlisberger
Getting pressure on the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger could be a key for the Ravens.
Sacking Ben: One of the biggest keys for Baltimore will be sacking Roethlisberger. The Ravens' pass rush struggled last season. They registered just 27 sacks in 16 games. New Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano wants to change that. Baltimore plans to be more aggressive with its blitzing. Pittsburgh's offensive line has struggled at times with blitz pickups in the preseason. Keep an eye on this facet of the game.

Dalton’s debut: Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton will make his regular-season debut Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals are counting on Dalton this year. The second-round pick had mixed results in the preseason. Dalton has talent around him, but it's a young group trying to learn how to play together. Avoiding turnovers will be key.

Shurmur's first game, too: Rookie head coach Pat Shurmur will try to do what Cleveland's previous four coaches could not, which is win his Browns debut. Cleveland is 1-11 in season openers since returning to the NFL in 1999. The Browns have not won a regular-season opener since 2004.

Haden vs. Green: A fun matchup to watch will be the game within the game between Browns cornerback Joe Haden and Bengals receiver A.J. Green. The pair are former first-round picks from the SEC and played against each other in college. Haden is now Cleveland's No. 1 corner and will be asked to shut down Green, who is projected to be Cincinnati's top receiver. This should be a good rivalry to watch for years to come.