AFC North Game Day – Week 11

AFC North Game Day – Week 11
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Pittsburgh Steelers (4-5) at Cleveland Browns (0-10)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland. TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon.
SERIES HISTORY: 127th regular-season meeting. The Steelers lead the series, 68-58, and have won six of the past seven. The Browns have won two of the past four in Cleveland, including a 31-10 victory in 2014. The Steelers and Browns met in the postseason twice, with the Steelers winning each time in 1994 and 2002.
KEYS TO THE GAME: This is a great matchup for the Steelers. Cleveland has one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Browns give up 419 yards and 30.1 points per game. Only the 49ers yield more yards and more points. The Steelers haven’t lived up to preseason expectations, but they remain dangerous on offense. They have scored 30 points or more in four of nine games, including 30 last week against Dallas.
Pittsburgh can take advantage of a weak Cleveland secondary that has struggled against other top passing offenses. It is also a chance for the Steelers to get their running game healthy. The Steelers have struggled to find room for running back Le’Veon Bell, but the Browns are 31st in the NFL against the rush, allowing 144 yards per game.
Pittsburgh has struggled on defense, especially giving up big plays, but the Browns pose little threat. They average just 17.5 points per game and have a hard time moving the ball reliably running or passing. The Browns have run well against the Steelers in recent years and Isaiah Crowell has had some good moments this year, so that will be something to watch with the Steelers thin along the defensive line.
–Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Browns CB Joe Haden. Brown has gotten the better of Haden in recent years, and he has posted two 100-yard receiving games in the past three weeks. Against the Cowboys, Brown had 14 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown. Haden has three interceptions this season, including one last week against the Ravens. He’ll have to play well in order for the Browns to keep the Steelers’ offense in check.
–Browns WR Terrelle Pryor vs. Steelers CB Ross Cockrell. There haven’t been many bright spots for the Browns this season, but Pryor is one of them. He has 51 receptions for 627 yards and four touchdowns. Cockrell has done well when matched up against top receivers from other teams this season. After rookie corner Artie Burns struggled the past two weeks against Mike Wallace and Dez Bryant, the Steelers are likely to have Cockrell shadow Pryor.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers DE Ricardo Mathews. With starting defensive end and team captain Cam Heyward out for the rest of the season with a pectoral injury, Mathews will assume a bigger role. He was signed after spending last season with the Chargers. He has five tackles in just 130 defensive snaps, but he’ll get plenty of opportunities now that he’s a starter. In 89 games, including 17 starts, Mathews has four sacks and two forced fumbles.
INJURY REPORT: Pittsburgh — Out: DE Cameron Heyward (pectoral), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot), S Shamarko Thomas (groin), WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder), RB DeAngelo Williams (knee). Questionable: S Jordan Dangerfield (groin), TE Xaiver Grimble (quadricep). Cleveland — Questionable: CB Tramon Williams (knee).
FAST FACTS: Several Steelers, including QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell, have been critical of the team’s practice habits. Bell said last week the Steelers make the same mistakes in practice that take place in games. After the Week 10 loss to the Cowboys, Roethlisberger said players have to be held accountable. … Roethlisberger is 20-2 vs. the Browns. In the past two meetings, he has passed for 728 yards and six TDs. Last week vs. Dallas, he completed 37 of 46 for 408 yards and three TDs. … Bell has 100-plus scrimmage yards in five of the last six games. In the last four vs. the Browns, he has totaled 496 yards and scored two rushing TDs. … Browns rookie QB Cody Kessler has 119 consecutive passes without an interception. He leads rookies and is eighth in the NFL with a 66.9 completion percentage. … Browns WR Terrelle Pryor leads the team with 51 catches, 627 yards and four TDs. Pryor has a 93-yard touchdown against Pittsburgh, but that was on a run as QB of the Oakland Raiders in 2013.
PREDICTION: The Steelers came close to beating Dallas last week and certainly should be expected to break their losing streak against the Browns.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 38-28.


Baltimore Ravens (5-4) at Dallas Cowboys (8-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas. TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn.
SERIES HISTORY: Fifth regular-season meeting. Baltimore leads the all-time series, 4-0. The Cowboys are the only team in the NFL that has not earned a victory against the Ravens, who have scored 30 or more points in three of the four games. Baltimore won the most previous matchup 31-29 on Oct. 14, 2012, at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens also handed the Cowboys a loss in the final game at Texas Stadium in 2008.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Rookie Dak Prescott will try for his ninth victory but first as the official starter — as opposed to a possible place-holder for franchise icon Tony Romo. Expected to suit up this Sunday, Romo openly and graciously acknowledged his role will be as a backup. In a dramatic press conference Tuesday, Romo said Prescott “earned the right to be our quarterback.”
On to the game.
The Cowboys have the league’s best rush offense and the league’s top runner in rookie Ezekiel Elliott, who has 1,005 yards through nine games. The Ravens are giving up just 3.3 yards per carry and 71.3 yards per game. The Cowboys want to run to continue to take pressure off Prescott, control the ball and keep the defense off the field.
The Cowboys will again try to impose their will on the ground against a stingy Ravens front. That’s been their formula for success all season. They are not changing now.
The Ravens must set the tone early with defense and let their offense get into sync without needing to play from too far behind. As a result, look for Baltimore to bring the pressure, although measured to fill the gaps or Elliott will find the openings as he did against Pittsburgh.
While the Dallas offense gets the attention, its defense has been solid as well. Baltimore needs to get a run game revved up to control the clock and keep the Cowboys’ offense off the field. Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has stayed committed to the ground game even when the running backs have struggled to find yards. That will continue against Dallas to take some of the pressure off quarterback Joe Flacco, who is just 3-4 when forced to throw 40 or more passes this season.
–Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott vs. Ravens DT Timmy Jernigan. Jernigan is one the game’s top defensive players. He has been a force all season on a Ravens defense that is ranked No. 1 in the league vs. the run. Jernigan and the rest of his unit, however, will face its biggest test against Elliott, who is having an MVP-caliber season and leads the NFL with 1,005 yards and has scored nine touchdowns.
–Ravens receivers vs. Cowboys secondary. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco likes to take an occasional shot downfield, especially when speedy receivers Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace get on-on-one matchups. He will have an opportunity to throw deep against a Dallas secondary that is dealing with several injuries. Both safety Barry Church and cornerback Morris Claiborne are expected to miss the game, while veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick will likely be able to return. Dallas will try to keep the pressure of Flacco to prevent him from looking downfield.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Ravens WR Breshad Perriman. Last year’s first-round pick has improved steadily each week and notched his first career touchdown reception against the Browns. Perriman’s rookie season ended in training camp when he suffered a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Another knee injury in this year’s OTAs put him on the PUP until Aug. 18. Perriman is finally starting to look more fluid in his routes and could be a difference maker against the Cowboys.
INJURY REPORT: Baltimore — Out: TE Crockett Gilmore (thigh), T Alex Lewis (ankle). Doubtful: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), CB Jimmy Smith (back), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh). Questionable: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), CB Shareece Wright (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder). Dallas — Out: S Barry Church (forearm), CB Morris Claiborne (groin). Questionable: WR Dez Bryant (back), T Chaz Green (foot, back), DE Demarcus Lawrence (back), QB Tony Romo (back), T Tyron Smith (back, hip).
FAST FACTS: Ravens QB Joe Flacco was 30 of 41 for 296 yards and a season-high three touchdowns last Sunday, completing at least 70 percent of his throws for the 29th time in his career. Dallas has allowed opponents to complete at least 70 percent in five straight games, the longest streak in franchise history. … Cowboys rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns last weekend, going over the 1,000-yard mark and giving him nine rush TDs, tied for second in the NFL. Elliott had an 83-yard scoring catch against the Steelers, becoming the first player with a 60-yard TD run and an 80-yard TD reception in the same season since Gale Sayers in 1965.
PREDICTION: We thought the Steelers just might stop the Cowboys last week in Pittsburgh. But we missed that prediction when Dallas, behind a great OL and MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott, took the game to a higher level when necessary. Impressive stuff.
OUR PICK: Cowboys, 28-21.



Buffalo Bills (4-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-5-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati. TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Chris Spielman, Holly Sonders.
SERIES HISTORY: 30th meeting. Buffalo leads 15-14, including a streak of 10 straight wins over the Bengals before 2011. Cincinnati defeated the Bills 34-21 last season in Buffalo. Both Bengals Super Bowl runs in 1981 and 1988 included playoff wins over the Bills.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals were a popular pick against the New York Giantson Monday because they were the more desperate team. Following a 21-20 loss that dropped them to 3-5-1, desperation has reached new heights for the Bengals, who will be playing at Paul Brown Stadium for the first time in almost a month.
It’s a common theme each week, but the Bengals’ offensive line must play better — and this week it must do so against a Buffalo defense that leads the NFL in sacks. Rex Ryan‘s Bills will take some chances. If the Bengals can protect QB Andy Dalton, big plays could be available.
The Bills showed some real progress in the passing game in their 31-25 loss at Seattle as Tyrod Taylor attacked down the field against one of the NFL’s best defenses. He’ll need to continue doing that; but, in this game, the Bills would like to take advantage of a Bengals rush defense that has struggled all year. They rank 26th in yards per attempt and allowed the Giants — the second-worst running team in the league — to pile up 122 yards. The Bills are still second in the NFL at 155 rushing yards per game, LeSean McCoy‘s hamstring has healed and he’s ready to go for the stretch run. One key, though, will be the middle of the line as C Eric Wood is out for the year; Ryan Groy is a big drop-off, so Bengals NT Domata Peko and DT Geno Atkins could create some problems.
The Bills have given up big plays in the passing game — seven of 50 yards or more in the first nine games. WR A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert are going to be difficult matchups. CBs Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby have not held up well in man coverage and Green likely will have an advantage no matter which side he lines up on.
–Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Bills CBs Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. Both corners have been inconsistent, not playing to the level they were at in 2015 when Rex Ryan said they were the best corner duo in the league. Darby may not start — Corey White is getting reps this week — but no matter which side Green goes to, he’s going to be a handful for the Bills, who are also struggling at safety. If Gilmore, Darby or White can’t hold up, Green could have a very big day.
–Bills RB LeSean McCoy vs. Bengals linebackers. The Bengals have not been very good against the run this season, ranking 25th in yards per attempt. The Bills, as always, must control the ball on the ground, and McCoy — now with an extra week to rest his injured hamstring — should be fully healthy and able to resume his Pro Bowl play. One problem the Bills will encounter, though, is that center Eric Wood is out for the year, so there will be a void in the middle of the league’s second-ranked rushing game.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bills C Ryan Groy. The third-year pro may get his first NFL start since his rookie season with the Bears in 2014. Starting center Eric Wood is out for the year with a broken leg suffered in Seattle on Nov. 7. Groy replaced him in that game, and he is in competition this week with Patrick Lewis — who has been inactive for every game — to be the starter. Groy played 74 snaps this year as a backup at center and both guard spots, and he’s the front-runner to get the nod in Cincinnati.
INJURY REPORT: Buffalo — Out: DT Corbin Bryant (shoulder). Questionable: DT Marcell Dareus (groin), LB Jerry Hughes (hand), WR Justin Hunter (groin), WR Walter Powell (hip), WR Robert Woods (foot). Cincinnati — Doubtful: TE C.J. Uzomah (calf). Questionable: DE Wallace Gilberry (calf).
FAST FACTS: Bills QB Tyrod Taylor has five TD passes and two rushing scores in his last four road games. He leads NFL QBs with 362 yards rushing. Since 2015, he is the only QB with 4,500-plus passing yards (4,804) and 900-plus rushing yards (930). … Bills RB LeSean McCoy rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown in the last meeting and has 100 yards from scrimmage in five of the last six games. Since 2010, he leads the NFL with 7,733 yards rushing. … Bengals WR A.J. Green needs 36 receiving yards to join Randy Moss as the only NFL players to reach 1,000 in each of their first six seasons. DT Geno Atkins had sack last week. Since 2010, his 47.5 sacks is most among NFL DTs.
PREDICTION: The Bengals are a physically talented team, especially on defense, but they are coming off a tough “MNF” loss at the New York Giants and the Bills had a bye week to heal after their loss in Seattle.
OUR PICK: Bills, 32-21.


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