AFC North Breakdown: Week Three


(Jarrett Carter writes for The Ebony Bird, which is FSB‘s Ravens blog. Representing the rest of the AFC North are Dawg Pound Daily, Nice Pick Cowher and Stripe Hype.)

Week 3 of the 2008 NFL regular season was unkind to the citizens of the AFC North. Two teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, went into games undefeated on the season, while the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals were still searching for their first tastes of victory.

But only one team exhibited enough swag to find its way to a convincing victory over a bitter rival, while the others fell in heartbreak fashion all around the league. Congratulations, Purple City; your Baltimore Ravens are the division leaders.

Baltimore Ravens (2-0):

Looking Back: With a bye week coming several weeks earlier than expected thanks to Hurricane Ike, the Baltimore Ravens prepared for a bitter showdown with the rival Cleveland Browns. There was still questions surrounding the readiness of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, and injured tailback Willis McGahee, who would be making their second and first starts of the season respectively. The hope that a Raven offense would be capable of more than turnovers and shame was a novelty that had waned in the days after the victory over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals, but was justified with a decent running attack, and Ed Reed once again morphing into the Ball Hawk of yesteryear.

Looking Forward: Next week will be the third straight game against a divisional foe, and the hardest test yet in the form of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Do they have a lame mascot and boring uniforms? Absolutely, and its for this very reason that they are a great football team. They are conditioned to think of nothing else but execution on the field, and drunken celebrations to be captured on film by aggressive bloggers after the contest.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-3):

Looking Back: They had us all fooled for a moment. They looked the part of the worst team in the NFL, ready to implode at the seams with bodies to be strewn all around the league next summer. But they traveled into New York for a game against the New York Giants and took them to the wire. We’re not surprised they lost, but that they resembled a decent team in the losing effort.

Looking Forward: Next week, they face the only team that looks worse than they do at home – the Cleveland Browns. They will have the fortune of having proof that they can win, and facing a team that has not come as close to doing it as they have. Much like the Steelers-Ravens, it will be a physical contest that will be decided by defensive plays, and if warrants are served in the days leading up to the contest.

Cleveland Browns (0-3):

Looking Back: Brady Quinn perhaps? Would a change at quarterback do good for the Browns? Because something has to give, moreso than the defense has over the last few weeks. They are dead last, or near last in points, total yards, passing yards and rushing yards. Very few teams look as bad as the Browns this year, and an 0-4 start could have the quarterback position looking very metrosexual by Week 5.

Looking Forward: They have a puncher’s chance against Cincinnati this Sunday, but chances are they will emerge from the game as the undisputed Glass Joe of the AFC North. Keys to the game will be pressure on Carson Palmer, and a commitment to running the ball. Unfortunately, those keys will likely be left on the proverbial end table, resulting in a route in the Ohio Bowl.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1):

Looking Back: The Pittsburgh Steelers opened the season with a convincing win over the Houston Texans, but have since struggled offensively against the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. They are the favorite in the AFC North, and have put forth a decent bid to be a favorite in the conference.

Looking Forward: Ravens. Steelers. Monday Night Football. The last time the Ravens were on MNF, they had a legitimate chance at ending the New England Patriots’ perfect season. Their intent this week will be to disrupt Ben Roethelisberger’s slew-footed swag, and emerge 3-0 and well ahead of the pack in the division. The Steelers won’t give up, and will surprisingly make it a contest through their air attack.