AFC North Week 1 X factors

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
1:00
PM ET
Everyone is familiar with star players like Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Peyton Hillis and Cedric Benson. But who will be the lesser-known X factors in these Week 1 matchups?

Here are some additional players who could make an impact Sunday's games in the AFC North:

Lee Evans, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Experience: Eighth season

Analysis: Baltimore traded for Evans to add speed to its receiving corps. Pittsburgh and other teams often stacked the box against Baltimore's offense. Opponents didn't respect the Ravens' ability to throw deep. That's where Evans can be a difference-maker. He has the speed to blow by defenders for long gains. If Evans makes a big play or two this weekend, that increases Baltimore's chances against Pittsburgh.

Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Experience: Second season

Analysis: The last time Brown played the Ravens, he got behind Baltimore corner Lardarius Webb for a huge catch in the playoffs to set up Pittsburgh's game-winning touchdown. Brown has carried that momentum into the preseason. He's been Pittsburgh's most productive receiver in exhibition games and won the job as the team's third receiver. The Ravens have to account for Brown, in addition to Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Heath Miller.

Leon Hall, CB, Cincinnati Bengals

Experience: Fifth season

Analysis: The high-profile matchup between Bengals receiver A.J. Green and Browns No. 1 corner Joe Haden will get a lot of press. But in contrast, Hall will be asked to shut down Cleveland's passing game, led by quarterback Colt McCoy. Hall recently received a big contract extension. He would like nothing better than to make a few big plays against Cleveland in Week 1 to justify his pay raise.

Ahtyba Rubin, DT, Cleveland Browns

Experience: Fourth season

Analysis: The Bengals are not hiding the fact they want to run the football. Look for Benson to get a lot of carries to test the young defensive line of the Browns. That's where Rubin comes in. He's the only proven player on Cleveland's front four. Rubin will team with rookie first-round pick Phil Taylor as the biggest pieces to Cleveland's run defense. If Rubin is disruptive to Cincinnati's rushing attack, that will go a long way toward stopping the Bengals' offense.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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