AFC North: audibles

Audibles: AFC North Week 16 preview

December, 19, 2008
12/19/08
3:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) at Tennessee Titans (12-2), 1 p.m. ET

  

The game of the year in the AFC will take place in Nashville Sunday when the streaking Pittsburgh Steelers travel to face the Tennessee Titans. The winner of this game will take possession of the No. 1 seed in the conference with one week remaining.

Pittsburgh has won five straight with high-quality victories over the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers during that span. Tennessee has sputtered, losing two of its last four, which included last week's defeat to the Houston Texans.

The Titans will be without their two best defensive linemen, Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch, due to injury, which could favor Pittsburgh. The Steelers' offensive line has been inconsistent this season but should have more success Sunday than originally projected.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-11-1) at Cleveland Browns (4-10) 1 p.m. ET

  

The Battle of Ohio will add another chapter Sunday when the Cleveland Browns host the Cincinnati Bengals. Both teams are simply playing out their seasons as playoff hopes faded a long time ago.

This game is trickier to predict than it looks. The Browns have twice the victories this season and are at home. But they have been awful during their four-game losing streak and have failed to score an offensive touchdown over that span.

Meanwhile, the Bengals are coming off their most impressive win of the season over the Washington Redskins. With remaining games against the Browns and Kansas City Chiefs (2-12), Cincinnati has a chance to end the year on a positive note.

But first the Bengals must get their act together on the road, where they are 0-7. The Browns also have struggled at home with a 1-6 mark.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game. 

Audibles: AFC North Week 15 preview

December, 12, 2008
12/12/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Washington Redskins (7-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-11-1), 1 p.m. ET

  

The Bengals look to show some fight for the first time in three weeks when they host the also-struggling Washington Redskins.

Cincinnati would cement its worst season in franchise history if it fails to win one of these final three games. Lately, the Bengals have displayed no reason to think they will turn it around after being outscored 69-6 the past two weeks. The team also is last in total offense (233.9 yards per game) and last in points per game (11.8).

Washington has lost four of its last five games but still will be the favorites in this matchup. The good news for the Bengals is they have an easier schedule moving forward against the Cleveland Browns (4-9) and Kansas City Chiefs (2-11) the final two weeks of the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (9-4), 4:15 p.m. ET

  

The biggest game of the year in the AFC North will commence Sunday when the Steelers travel to play the Ravens.

There are heavy playoff implications for both teams. Pittsburgh can clinch the division and the No. 2 seed in the conference with a win, while Baltimore can forge a tie for the division lead and possibly clinch a postseason berth with help from other teams.

This is a rematch of September's slugfest that Pittsburgh won 23-20 in overtime. But there are two strong trends going against Pittsburgh in this particular game. First, these two rivals sparingly sweep one another during the course of a season. The Steelers won the first meeting in September. Second, Pittsburgh is winless in its last five attempts at M&T Bank Stadium.

The loser of this game could find themselves in trouble. The Ravens and Steelers have brutal road games next week against the Dallas Cowboys (8-5) and Tennessee Titans (12-1), respectively, that could lead to a two-game losing streak during the stretch run.

Cleveland Browns (4-9) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-5-1), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday

  

The Browns mercifully play their fifth and final prime-time game of the 2008 season on "Monday Night Football" when they travel to play the Philadelphia Eagles. It will be the Browns' (4-9) third Monday game of the season.

Cleveland was expected to be a team on the rise when the NFL and its television partners decided to give the Browns five prime-time games after a 10-6 run in 2007. But it's been mostly a train-wreck season for the Browns where everything has gone wrong and they've lost 9 of 13 games.

Former third-string quarterback Ken Dorsey will get his second start of the season. He threw for 150 yards and an interception in last week's 28-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Don't expect a much better performance against the blitz-happy Eagles, who desperately need this win to stay alive in the playoff race. Philadelphia is still battling for a wild-card spot in the NFC with three games to play.

Audibles: AFC North Week 14 preview

December, 5, 2008
12/05/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Cleveland Browns (4-8) at Tennessee Titans (11-1), 1 p.m. ET

After losing two quarterbacks for the season in back-to-back weeks, the limping Cleveland Browns travel to face one of the best teams in the NFL in the Tennessee Titans.

This game could get ugly in Nashville.

The Browns will start third-string quarterback Ken Dorsey after losing both Derek Anderson (knee) and Brady Quinn (finger) to season-ending injuries. Dorsey hasn't started a game since 2005 and now he has to face Tennessee's fifth-ranked defense.

If there is anything interesting to watch in this game, it's the matchup between Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth of Tennessee. The pair have been among the most dominant linemen in the NFL this year and will share the same field Sunday.

Cincinnati Bengals (1-10-1) at Indianapolis Colts (8-4), 1 p.m. ET

Coming off a 31-point defeat at home last week, the Bengals travel to Indianapolis in what should be another drubbing against the sizzling Colts.

Indianapolis has won five straight and the Mannings are a combined 6-1 against the AFC North, including a 3-0 mark for Peyton Manning and the Colts. Sunday likely will complete a clean sweep for Indianapolis against the division.

Cincinnati is 0-6 on the road this year and has been outscored a whopping 310-151 overall. The Bengals are running out of healthy players and recently signed linebacker Victor Hobson, who could come off the street and see his first action for Cincinnati Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys (8-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be searching for their second straight marquee win Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Field. Last week, Pittsburgh was impressive in pounding the New England Patriots, 33-10.

The Steelers defense has been phenomenal, holding all 12 opponents this year to under 300 yards, which is tied for the second longest streak since the AFL/NFL merger. Dallas, with its various offensive weapons, could be the biggest challenger to that streak to date.

With losses to the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh has struggled against the NFC East this year. The common denominator in those losses was the inability to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, so expect Dallas to pressure the Steelers a lot on Sunday.

Pittsburgh has a chance to clinch a playoff berth this week. The Steelers would need to beat the Cowboys and have the New England Patriots (7-5) and Miami Dolphins (7-5) both lose their games. Pittsburgh is 15-5 in December games since 2004 and hopes that trend continues Sunday.

Washington Redskins (7-5) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5), 8:15 p.m. ET

Two teams heading in opposite directions face off Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens host the Washington Redskins.

Baltimore has won six of its last seven games and is averaging 30.5 points in that span. The Ravens' defense also is ranked No. 2 and has an NFL-best 31-game streak of holding rushers under 100 yards. That combination is making Baltimore a tough matchup for opponents.

The Redskins meanwhile have lost three of four but should be hungry Sunday. This is a must-win game for Washington as it tries to keep pace in a crowded wild-card race. Right now the Redskins are only a half-game above the Philadelphia Eagles (6-5-1), who are in last place in the NFC East.

Audibles: AFC North Week 13 preview

November, 28, 2008
11/28/08
3:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Baltimore Ravens (7-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-9-1), 1 p.m. ET

The Baltimore Ravens will try to avoid a trap game on the road Sunday against the struggling Cincinnati Bengals. Baltimore beat the Bengals 17-10 in the season opener for both teams, which jump-started the Ravens and sent Cincinnati into a season-long spiral.

Baltimore currently holds the No. 6 seed in the AFC and cannot afford to drop winnable games like this one down the stretch.

Sunday also marks the highly anticipated return of Ravens veteran tackle Willie Anderson, who spent 12 years of his career in Cincinnati before being cut earlier this season. Anderson has been one of the better and most recognizable players for the Bengals during all their struggles for more than a decade.

Indianapolis Colts (7-4) at Cleveland Browns (4-7), 1 p.m. ET

Former starting quarterback Derek Anderson is back in the saddle when the Cleveland Browns host the Indianapolis Colts. This comes after Brady Quinn shut it down for the season after breaking his right index finger.

Essentially, this serves as a five-game audition for Anderson, who could be traded in the offseason or could have a shot to remain the starter in Cleveland based on his performance.

But Cleveland is experiencing complete turmoil right now as everyone -- from the players to the head coach to front-office executives -- appears to be fighting for his job.

The Browns are one of the worst NFL teams at home this year at 1-5 and the Colts hope to take advantage. Another trend going against Cleveland is that the Manning brothers -- Peyton and Eli -- are 5-1 against the AFC North this year.

The Browns are the only team in their division to beat a Manning this season. Cleveland upset Eli Manning and the New York Giants on Oct. 13.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) at New England Patriots (7-4), 4:15 p.m. ET

The New England Patriots have had the Pittsburgh Steelers' number over the years. The Steelers hope to benefit from the absence of Tom Brady when these two teams meet in one of the best matchups of the weekend.

But Matt Cassel has been no pushover. In his first opportunity to play in the NFL, he's filled in well for Brady and is improving every week. He has thrown for over 400 yards the last two games, and he'll try to make it three-straight against Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense.

The Steelers have to be concerned about stopping the red-hot Randy Moss, who has 151 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. Reggie Wayne of the Indianapolis Colts is the only receiver to gain over 100 yards in a game against Pittsburgh this year.

Pittsburgh had 10 days off to prepare for this game, which could be key. The Steelers are getting healthy and currently own a one-game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North.

Audibles: AFC North Week 12 preview

November, 21, 2008
11/21/08
4:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Philadelphia Eagles (5-4-1) at Baltimore Ravens (6-4), 1 p.m. ET

The Baltimore Ravens look to bounce back Sunday in a big game against the Philadelphia Eagles. This game has playoff implications for both teams fighting for wild-card spots in its respective conferences.

Baltimore had its four-game winning streak snapped last week against the New York Giants. But the outcome was not nearly as surprising as the way New York had its way with the Ravens' defense, rushing for 207 yards.

Despite the Ravens' struggles, they still have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 29 straight games, which is an NFL best. Eagles running back Brian Westbrook drives the engine in Philadelphia and stuffing him is key for Baltimore. Philadelphia is 3-1-1 this year when Westbrook rushes for 60 yards or more.

The Eagles have looked tired since giving it their all two weeks ago in a 36-31 loss to the Giants. After that game, Philadelphia was lethargic and disinterested in last weekend's 13-13 tie with the Cincinnati Bengals. Baltimore could be catching the Eagles at the right time with distractions surrounding the futures of head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Houston Texans (3-7) at Cleveland Browns (4-6), 1 p.m. ET

Despite a short week, the Cleveland Browns feel they're on the rebound entering Sunday's contest against the Houston Texans. Cleveland broke a two-game losing streak last week against the Buffalo Bills on "Monday Night Football."

Browns quarterback Brady Quinn has been up and down thus far, but he has zero turnovers and is 1-1 in two career starts. His lack of mistakes allows Cleveland to stay close in games. Both of Quinn's starts have come down to the final possession.

One of the biggest differences between last year's Cleveland team and this year's team is the inability to win at home. The Browns were a stellar 7-1 at home in 2007 but are just 1-4 in Cleveland this season.

The Browns will continue playing the spoiler role with three consecutive games against AFC South opponents. Following Sunday's game, Cleveland hosts the Indianapolis Colts (6-4) Nov. 30, then travels to play the Tennessee Titans (10-0) Dec. 7.

Audibles: AFC North Week 10 preview

November, 7, 2008
11/07/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Indianapolis Colts (4-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2), 4:15 p.m. ET
The Pittsburgh Steelers face an always dangerous Indianapolis Colts squad as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) remains a game-time decision.

Pittsburgh has a tough decision to make with Roethlisberger because it has to consider its long-term prospects, but at the same time the Steelers cannot afford to drop many home games during the second half of the season. Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich will get the start if Roethlisberger cannot go. Last week Leftwich filled in well, throwing for 129 yards and a touchdown in two quarters during a 23-6 victory over the Washington Redskins.

This contest was going to be tough regardless, because it appears the Colts are finally gaining traction. They beat the New England Patriots last week and also welcomed back Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders.

Sunday marks the first of three consecutive home games for Pittsburgh, which offers the team a chance to add to its momentum. The Steelers also face the San Diego Chargers (3-5) Nov. 16 and the Cincinnati Bengals (1-8) at Heinz Field Nov. 20.

Baltimore Ravens (5-3) at Houston Texans (3-5), 1 p.m. ET
This was a game that was scheduled for Week 2, but damage to Reliant Stadium caused by Hurricane Ike forced the NFL to reschedule. Now both teams meet Sunday with higher stakes in November.

The Ravens have won three straight and positioned themselves well through the first half of the season. Baltimore is riding high offensively, having scored a season-high 37 points last week in a victory over the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens have averaged an impressive 31 points the past three games.

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and tailback Ray Rice have been red hot and are no longer playing like first-year players. The defense has been solid for the most part and expects a healthy Samari Rolle (neck) to return Sunday. Rolle's return is needed to help negate the strong receiving corps of Houston, led by Andre Johnson.

The Ravens are just one game behind the Steelers for first place in the AFC North. A fourth consecutive victory will continue to put pressure on Pittsburgh for the top spot, as the two teams meet again next month in Baltimore.

Audibles: Quinn takes center stage

November, 6, 2008
11/06/08
10:39
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Denver Broncos (4-4) vs. Cleveland Browns (3-5), 8:15 p.m.

The Brady Quinn era starts Thursday night for the Cleveland Browns.

 
 Michael Sackett/US Presswire
 Brady Quinn gets his shot as the starter Thursday night.

But why does it feel more like an experiment?

While Quinn leading the Browns has been in the works from the day he was selected in the first round of the 2007 draft, the circumstances of throwing him in the lineup against the Denver Broncos in a nationally televised game were bizarre.

"It kind of took me by shock," former starter Derek Anderson told reporters this week.

Here is a breakdown of how things unfolded:

  • Browns head coach Romeo Crennel told the media Sunday and Monday that he didn't anticipate a quarterback change. But just a few hours after the news conference Monday, ESPN broke the story that the Browns were changing quarterbacks and the team confirmed it by releasing a statement.
  • On Tuesday, after widespread speculation that Crennel was not calling the shots, the head coach told the media that it was indeed his call. But Crennel has been a staunch supporter of Anderson and stuck with him throughout his struggles. Just when Anderson is playing his best football of the season (seven touchdown passes, two interceptions in the past five games), Crennel said it's time to make a change.
  • The timing of this move is odd, considering Quinn gets only two full days of practice before making his first NFL start. Are the Browns giving Quinn the best chance to succeed? If Quinn struggles with just two days of preparation, is it really a good indication of his skills? Had Cleveland waited one more game to turn to Quinn, he would have had 10 days to prepare before the team's next contest Nov. 17 against the Buffalo Bills on "Monday Night Football."

But the Browns said they have their reasons. Whether it was the head coach's decision, the front office's decision or partly the influence of the fans, the Browns are going ahead with their new quarterback.

Cleveland is 3-5, and although the organization said it's not quitting on its season, giving the football to an inexperienced quarterback with no career starts is risky.

The Browns felt they had to do something after giving up 24 unanswered points in Sunday's 37-27 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. They hope Quinn provides the spark to an offense rated No. 28 in the NFL and a team that is an abysmal 1-3 at home.

This is an opportunity Quinn has waited for nearly all of his life. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, approximately 140 miles south of Cleveland, and rooted for the Browns. There are pictures of him as a child wearing Browns gear to prove it.

Quinn is staying away from the hype. He praised Anderson and said he feels for him. And with the short week to prepare, Quinn also doesn't have time to think about the enormity of his first start in nearly two years (not counting preseason).

"It's been a little while [so] I need to dust off the cleats, shoulder pads and everything," he said, laughing. "It is going to be nice. It will be fun to get back out there. I am excited now and I will be once game time comes around."

Although this week's circumstances are unique, it was only a matter of time before Quinn got his chance. He was always the elephant in the room looking over Anderson's shoulder, regardless of how the former starter played.

Changing quarterbacks was the most drastic move Cleveland could make in an attempt to save its 2008 season. The Browns held on to the Quinn card for a year and a half before playing it. But will this card be an ace for Cleveland on Thursday night or a joker?

"Knock on wood. I hope the guy doesn't fall on his face," Crennel said.

Audibles: AFC North Week 9 preview

October, 31, 2008
10/31/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Cleveland Browns (3-4), 1 p.m. ET

  

This is a battle of two hot teams that are quietly playing their best football of the season.

There's a lot on the line for the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. The Ravens have a chance to solidify themselves as a legitimate playoff contender with a victory, while the Browns can get back to .500 at the midpoint of their season.

Both teams could be dangerous in the second half of the season. The Ravens appear to be getting their offense on track, averaging 28 points the past two games. If Baltimore can continue scoring at that clip along with its strong defense, the Ravens will be tough to beat. The Browns have won three of their last four games and finally are playing to the potential many expected coming into the season.

Quarterback play will be key on Sunday. The Ravens have an NFL-best 26-game streak of holding rushers under 100 yards, so Derek Anderson of Cleveland likely will have to win this game through the air. Baltimore rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is improving and has even flashed some unexpected athleticism running and catching the ball.

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-8), 1 p.m. ET

  

The Cincinnati Bengals need to win soon if they want to avoid a franchise record for futility. They will get their next chance Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Cincinnati is off to its fifth 0-8 start in team history and the first under head coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals' all-time worst start was in 1993, when the team started 0-10.

The good news for the Bengals is the Jaguars have struggled against the AFC North. Both Cleveland and the Pittsburgh Steelers went into Jacksonville this year and walked out with victories. At home Cincinnati will try to make it 0-3 against its division for the Jags.

The biggest challenge for the Bengals lately has been keeping games close. Cincinnati has lost its past three games by an average margin of 23 points.

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Washington Redskins (6-2), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday

  

For the second time in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in arguably the best game of the week against an NFC East team. Monday, it comes against the Washington Redskins as Pittsburgh needs to prove it can compete against the NFL's best division.

The Steelers are off to a fast start, but they are 0-2 against the NFC East. In addition, Pittsburgh's offense has been pummeled by the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles in those two losses, scoring just 20 combined points and giving up 13 quarterback sacks. Expect Washington to also bring a lot of pressure as teams continue to try to exploit the Steelers' inconsistent pass protection.

Pittsburgh's No. 1-ranked defense will look for a way to slow MVP candidate and NFL leading rusher Clinton Portis, who has 944 rushing yards in eight games. Portis is the type of running back that can give Pittsburgh trouble. The Steelers much prefer shutting down bigger tailbacks and matching their physicality for four quarters. Portis is more of a slasher with home-run potential.

Audibles: AFC North Week 7 preview

October, 17, 2008
10/17/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-6), 1 p.m. ET

The top team in the AFC North will travel to play the worst team in the division when the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Cincinnati Bengals.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loves playing in southern Ohio -- and in the state in general. The Miami (Ohio) alum is 5-0 in his career against the Bengals in Cincinnati and an unbelievable 10-0 in road games against the Bengals and Cleveland Browns overall.

Cincinnati will be without starting quarterback Carson Palmer (elbow) for the second consecutive game. The offense is struggling under backup signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bengals only have one play this season of 30 yards or more, which is last in the NFL.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is in the middle of his first six-game losing streak of his career. After making the playoffs in 2005, Cincinnati is inching closer toward its third consecutive non-winning season.

Baltimore Ravens (2-3) at Miami Dolphins (2-3), 1 p.m. ET

Despite a pair of 2-3 records, this is one of the most intriguing matchups this week. This game is important for the status of both teams.

The Ravens have cooled after a fast start. Baltimore has lost three games in a row and needs to stop the bleeding. The Dolphins lost a close game to the Houston Texans last week. Both teams are only several plays away from being 4-1.

An interesting subplot to watch is if Baltimore's top-rated defense can stop Miami's "Wildcat" formation, which has given opponents a lot of trouble this season. Dolphins tailback Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have combined for 571 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in five games.

Meanwhile, the Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 24 consecutive games, which is an NFL best.

Cleveland Browns (2-3) at Washington Redskins (4-2), 4:15 p.m. ET

The Cleveland Browns will find out if last week's performance was a fluke or a turning point in their season Sunday when they travel to play the Washington Redskins.

Cleveland and Washington provided two of the biggest surprises in the NFL last week but for different reasons. The Browns pulled off a huge upset in convincing fashion by beating the previously undefeated New York Giants 35-14 on "Monday Night Football." The Redskins lost a shocker to the previously winless St. Louis Rams at home, 19-17.

Quarterback Derek Anderson is coming off a 310-yard, two-touchdown performance as the Browns gained 454 total yards and didn't punt once last week.

Will the short week hurt the Browns or allow Cleveland to carry over the momentum it created in last Monday's win over the defending Super Bowl champions?

Audibles: AFC North Week 6 preview

October, 10, 2008
10/10/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Baltimore Ravens (2-2) at Indianapolis Colts (2-2), 1 p.m.

This will be an interesting matchup of strengths Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts play host to the Baltimore Ravens.

Indianapolis has been inconsistent, but its strength remains on offense. Baltimore enters the game with the NFL's top-rated defense. Something has to give.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is 4-2 against the Ravens in the regular season and averages 283 yards passing per game. He also has a win over Baltimore in the playoffs in 2006, so there is a track record of success for Manning.

Baltimore is coming off back-to-back heart-breaking losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans. The Steelers overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half to win 23-20 in overtime Sept. 29, and Tennessee scored the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes left during the Titans' 13-10 win last week.

The Ravens need to get a win to create some momentum. They have five of their next six games away from M&T Bank Stadium.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-5) at New York Jets (2-2), 1 p.m.

Head coach Marvin Lewis will try to prevent the first 0-6 start of his career when the Cincinnati Bengals travel to face the New York Jets.

The Bengals are one of four winless NFL teams remaining, but they are getting more competitive. They've lost their past three games by an average of 6.7 points per game, including last week's solid outing in a 31-22 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Quarterback Carson Palmer will not start because of his inflamed right elbow.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started Sept. 28 in a 20-12 loss to the Cleveland Browns, will be the starter again. Palmer might be available for backup duty.

The Jets are coming off a bye week after putting up 56 points in a victory two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals. New York quarterback Brett Favre has nine touchdown passes in his last two starts.

New York Giants (4-0) at Cleveland Browns (1-3), 8:30 p.m. Monday

Coming off a bye week, the Cleveland Browns will try to right their season against arguably the NFL's hottest team in the New York Giants.

Despite lofty expectations, the Browns are off to a disappointing 1-3 start and need this win to keep their postseason hopes alive. Cleveland had 15 days to get healthy and prepare for this game against the defending Super Bowl champions.

New York is clicking on all cylinders and coming off a 44-6 thrashing of the Seattle Seahawks. They will get star receiver Plaxico Burress back in the lineup following a suspension by the team.

The Browns are the second-most penalized team in the NFL and need to be much more disciplined. Starting quarterback Derek Anderson has twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes (three).

The last time these two teams met -- in a preseason game that featured starters in the first half -- the Giants jumped to a 30-3 lead.

Audibles: AFC North Week 1 preview

September, 5, 2008
9/05/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Houston at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. ET

Skinny: The Pittsburgh Steelers have an interesting matchup against Houston. It's well documented that Pittsburgh struggles in pass protection and the Texans have one of the NFL's top young defensive ends in Mario Williams. So expect the Steelers to give Houston a heavy dose of tailbacks Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall to negate the Texans' pass rush. Then the Steelers can double-team Williams with an extra tight end or running back when necessary. Defensively Pittsburgh will try to pressure Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, who only has 13 career starts, to see what he's made of.

Prediction: Steelers 24-17

Why: This isn't an easy team for Pittsburgh. The Texans can rush the passer and have a group of receivers that can give the Steelers trouble on defense. But as long as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stays upright, he should have little trouble picking apart Houston's secondary. Head coach Mike Tomlin has an interesting task this weekend of keeping his team focused on Houston before a much-anticipated rivalry game against the Browns Sept. 14.

Dallas at Cleveland, 4:15 p.m. ET

Skinny: There might not be a more-hyped pair of football teams this year than the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns. The Cowboys didn't win a playoff game in 2007 and the Browns didn't qualify for the postseason despite a 10-6 record. Yet most people pick these two teams to do serious damage in their respective conferences this season. It should be a good measuring-stick game for both teams. Dallas, with 13 returning Pro Bowlers, arguably has more talent than any team in the NFL. But Cleveland, with its seven Pro Bowlers, has enough depth to compete. The deciding factor in this game is which defense is able to slow down the other team's offense at crucial times.

Prediction: Cowboys 27-21

Why: I don't know what it is about season openers at home, but the Browns simply don't win them. Cleveland is 1-8 in home openers since returning to the NFL in 1999, which defies logic. What doesn't defy logic is the Cowboys are a matchup nightmare for Cleveland's defense. Dallas should have success both running and passing the ball down the field enough to keep a rowdy crowd at bay. Cleveland's offense will put up points, too, but just not enough.

Cincinnati at Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET

Skinny: This division game is bigger than you think. Both teams have a lot of questions and are fragile right now after getting banged up and struggling in the preseason. The Ravens also have quarterback issues and will start rookie Joe Flacco in his first NFL game. Meanwhile, the Bengals' defense hasn't looked good and offensive cogs of quarterback Carson Palmer (broken nose), Chad Johnson (shoulder) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) haven't played together all preseason. Despite all these questions, the winner Sunday will suddenly feel a lot better about itself by being the only AFC North team with a division win, while the loser could spin further into turmoil.

Prediction: Ravens 16-14

Why: This is the most difficult pick in the AFC North this week, because both teams haven't shown much promise to date. It will simply be a matter of which club can suddenly turn it on Sunday. The Bengals' offensive timing might be off, at least early. Meanwhile, Flacco needs to make good decisions. Tailback Willis McGahee's possible return would be big for Baltimore, but it appears he will be a game-time decision. Either way this game won't be pretty. But when in doubt, we give a very small edge to the home team.

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