Audibles: AFC North Week 9 preview

October, 31, 2008
10/31/08
4:33
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.

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