AFC North Breakdown: Week 13


(David Wellman writes for Stripe Hype which is FSB’s Bengals blog. Representing the rest of the AFC North are The Ebony Bird, Dawg Pound Daily, and Nice Pick Cowher)

If Week 12 of the 2008 NFL regular season was all about expectations, then Week 13 was all about results. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens got them, and put themselves on a collision course to battle for control of the division in two weeks. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals continue to contend with the results of questionable offseason decisions.

Baltimore Ravens (8-4):

Looking Back: That the Ravens allowed the Bengals to hang around for 30 minutes is cause for some small concern, but a 21-point second half featuring a 70-yard TD pass from Joe Flacco, a 32-yard TD lob by WR Mark Clayton and a defensive pick six served up by Cincinnati’s third-string QB, Jordan “my older brother is Carson and all I got was this lousy backup job” Palmer gives the Ravens a two-game winning streak and a 6-1 record over the last seven games. Flacco’s 280 yards represent a career high, and his 119.9 rating lags only his 120.2 performance against Miami.

Looking Forward: The Ravens head home to face the Redskins, who got smacked around by division rival New York last weekend. Like the just-dispatched Bengals, Washington is struggling to run the ball. The Redskins gained only 92 yards on the ground against the Giants, and that includes 38 by QB Jason Campbell. The going won’t get any easier against the league’s 3rd-ranked rushing defense.

Cincinnati Bengals (1-10-1):

Looking Back: At the end of training camp, the Bengals cut right tackle Willie Anderson after he declined to knock $2 million off his paycheck. Anderson, written off by the Bengals as too old and injury-prone to keep on the roster, returned to the Queen City last weekend in black and purple, making his seventh start for the Ravens. In Anderson’s absence, the play of the Bengals’ offensive line has gone steadily downhill, and with it the performance of the entire offense. Injuries to the left side of the line two weeks ago in Pittsburgh have left the team starting rookie fourth-round pick Anthony Collins at left tackle and career practice squad player Nate Livings at left guard. It showed Sunday, when even three-step drops weren’t quick enough to allow QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to complete many passes.

Looking Forward: The Bengals travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts. Indy struggled Sunday against Cleveland, gaining just 215 net yards as Peyton Manning tossed two picks. If the Colts are still in a funk next weekend, this game could come in inside the 14-point spread, but the Colts could probably rest all their starters and still beat Cincinnati.

Cleveland Browns (4-8):

Looking Back: During the offseason, Cleveland elected not to deal QB Derek Anderson and hand the ball to first-round pick Brady Quinn. When Anderson struggled, calls grew for Quinn. Those calls were answered in Week 10 against Denver, only to have a finger injury cut Quinn’s season short. The Browns recalled Anderson, but he was lost for the year on Sunday with a torn medial collateral ligament. Third-string QB Ken Dorsey is slated to start against Tennessee. The futures of both head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage — whose offseason wheeling and dealing for such players as DT Shaun Rogers helped make the team a preseason darling — in Cleveland are increasingly in doubt.

Looking Forward: The Browns travel to 11-1 Tennessee next Sunday. The Titans are coming off a long week after destroying the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. The game against the Browns could be just as ugly.

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3):

Looking Back: The Steelers got an early Christmas present — five of them, actually — as the New England Patriots committed five turnovers en route to a 33-10 battering by the Pittsburgh team. LB James Harrison continues to terrorize opposing offenses; his two sacks and two forced fumbles Sunday give him 14 of the former and six of the latter. Second-year LB Lawrence Timmons got his first career interception. Ben Roethlisberger was (ho-hum) 17 for 33, 179 yards, and two TDs to one pick. Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore combined for (yawn) 154 yards rushing. In short, same stuff, different year, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have now won three straight.

Looking Forward: Dallas comes to town next Sunday. Like Tennessee, the Cowboys should be well-rested after playing — and winning — on Thanksgiving. Dallas is also riding a three-game winning streak, and QB Tony Romo comes in hot off back-to-back 300-plus yard games in which the Cowboys have put up 69 points. It’s doubtful Dallas will prove as generous as New England.