(CBS Pittsburgh) — The AFC North has been the best division in football through the first part of the season. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns each have three wins. And even the Cincinnati Bengals, who notched their first victory just last weekend, have shown themselves to be competitive.
“It’s been a very difficult AFC North so far,” says CBS Pittsburgh sports anchor Bob Pompeani. “I think, collectively, the AFC North has been the best division in football top to bottom.”
Can they stay strong in Week 5? Pompeani looks at this week’s matchups in the AFC North.
All times listed are Eastern.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, October 11, 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
The Steelers are coming off an unplanned bye week in Week 4. Their matchup with the Tennessee Titans will be rescheduled for later in the season after multiple Titans players and personnel tested positive for coronavirus. They return to action in Week 5, hosting the struggling Eagles this Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The Eagles finally found the win column in San Francisco in Week 4, taking down the 49ers, 25-20. And they did it, as Pompeani described it, “by being opportunistic. Had a pick-six in the game, a big 42-yard touchdown pass.”
Carson Wentz played more like he’s capable of, even if the stats don’t quite measure up to previous outings. But the offense is somewhat limited in what they can do right now. “When you have an offensive line that has four backups starting, that’s a problem,” says Pompeani.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, their weakness along the offensive line plays right into the strength of the Steelers defense. Pittsburgh is giving up a league-low 54 yards per game on the ground, and they’ve piled up 15 sacks in just three games. “I think that’s something the Steelers will be able to attack this week,” says Pompeani. “They are number one in the NFL in sacks for three weeks, number one in quarterback hits for three weeks. And they’re very stingy against the run.”
Eagles running back Miles Sanders has been productive at times, both on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield. But he may struggle to find yards behind that battered offensive line. According to Pompeani, “while Philadelphia will try to run with Miles Sanders and company, I think the Steelers will stop that, which will put emphasis on Carson Wentz being protected. And I think that’s where the Steelers have a big edge.”
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, October 11, 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
The Bengals have a promising future behind Joe Burrow. The rookie quarterback has three consecutive 300-yard games, in which he’s tossed six touchdown passes against just one interception. But these are early days.
“Cincinnati is in the embryonic stages of Joe Burrow,” says Pompeani. “But he’s looked good. He’s put up pretty nice numbers for the first few weeks of the season, considering he’s a rookie quarterback with no preseason at all to speak of. I think he’s been hit a lot, but he’s responded. He’s a tough kid. And he’s certainly somebody who’s going to make them better in time.”
But he may struggle some against a clearly superior Ravens team, as will a Bengals defense that’s given up 4.9 yards per carry and 158.5 rushing yards per game. The Ravens are among the NFL’s best running teams, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 161 rushing yards per game. And Lamar Jackson, despite somewhat meager passing stats so far, is certainly a threat with his arm as well.
The Ravens proved last week that motivation in should-win games isn’t an issue. According to Pompeani, “the Ravens showed me something last week with the win over Washington after that really tough game against Kansas City. They could’ve come out flat against Washington.”
Expect the Ravens to be up for an intra-division game against an inferior opponent. And expect them to win at home.
Indianapolis Colts @ Cleveland Browns, Sunday, October 11, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Have the Cleveland Browns finally turned that corner that everyone has been expecting them to turn for years? The Browns are 3-1 for the first time in almost two decades. And after a Week 1 dud against the Ravens, they’ve scored at least 35 points in each of their last three games. That includes the 49 they just dropped on the Dallas Cowboys. Baker Mayfield has two touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of at least 100 in each of those games as well.
“They certainly have a lot of talent,” says Pompeani. “They scored a ton of points in that Dallas game. But their defense has given up a lot.” How much is a lot? Well, the Browns currently have the NFL’s third-worst passing defense, allowing 1,242 yards and 12 touchdowns so far. They’re significantly better against the run.
The Browns host the Colts, who have also won three straight after dropping their opener. Though now led now by Philip Rivers, Indianapolis is winning games with its defense. In terms of yards, the Colts boast the NFL’s fourth-best rushing defense and the best passing defense. So the Browns probably won’t be topping 300 yards on the ground this week like they did last week against the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think Indianapolis will score on that defense,” says Pompeani. “I think Indy’s defense is good enough to shut down, to some degree, Baker Mayfield and his team. So I’m looking for the Colts to go on the road and win that game.”