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A Spooky Vibe in The North

Photo Credit: USA Today
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Man, talk about a week we’d all love to forget transpired. Heading into Week 7, the Ravens were presented with an opportunity to create real breathing room in the AFC North, while also strengthening their position atop the conference as a whole. Instead, a pure whooping at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals now has them in second place behind that very same team, with plenty of questions as they head into their bye week.

The Bengals weren’t the only team to taste success this week though, as another team in the north may have also saved their season with a gutsy, “gotta have it”, kind of victory on Thursday night. So, let’s roll up the sleeves and apprehensively take yet another look around the happenings of the AFC North from Week 7.

Cleveland Browns

Just when the world was ready to give them the “Browns is the Browns” treatment, after a string of unlucky injuries even the Ravens could sympathize with, Cleveland reached down deep on Thursday night to pull out a 17-14 victory over the Denver Broncos.

The Browns entered this game without signal caller Baker Mayfield following yet another shoulder injury vs Arizona. They were also without both star running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and starting tackle Jack Conklin. They say the NFL is a “next man up” league, but it’s glaringly obvious in most situations that this just isn’t the case. Replacing Pro Bowl caliber players in the middle of the season isn’t something most teams can do and still have success. Luckily for Cleveland though, they may have been the exception to the rule.

Thursday night was a coming out party of sorts for 2018 undrafted running back D’Ernest Johnson. After a brief stint in Saints training camp, Johnson would go on to play for the Orlando Apollos of the AAF before finally ending up back in the league with the Browns in 2019. This game against the Denver Broncos was his first chance at any substantial work since signing with the team, and he’d have quite the pair(s) of shoes to fill in the process. So, how did he respond? He only rumbled for 146 yards and a touchdown against a Denver Broncos front that essentially stifled the Ravens rushing attack just weeks prior. Even more impressively, he did so behind a more than banged up offensive line.

Case Keenum drew the start for the Browns at quarterback. While he certainly wasn’t lighting up the stat sheet by any means, he put the Browns in the position they needed to be in to win at the end of the game, and didn’t commit any costly turnovers along the way.

Kevin Stefansky also didn’t commit any questionable 4th down tries for the first time in weeks. Perhaps being forced into a more conservative approach with Keenum at the helm last week will be good for him long-term. It may show him that sometimes, the approach that might be deemed “less sexy” is actually the smart way to go.

Most importantly from this game, the Browns snapped a two week slide that felt more like a five week slide, and got to enjoy an extended week to get healthy before the Steelers come to town off their bye. Rebounding from those injuries will still be key for Cleveland going forward, but at (4-3) they’re still right in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Not much to say here, with the Steelers kicking their feet up at home this weekend. They’re .500, and coming into the aforementioned game in Cleveland with a whole lot to prove. While the divisional race should still be tight until the end of the year, the loser of that game will certainly find themselves with a lot of ground to cover as we head towards Thanksgiving. It’s put up or shut up time this week for the Steelers, and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond.

[Related Article: The Good, Bad & The Ugly]

Cincinnati Bengals

If it makes any of you feel better, it’s just as tough for us to write about these types of games as it is for you to watch them. What else is there to say? The Cincinnati Bengals are a very good football team, and a good 1-2 years ahead of schedule in terms of where anyone thought they’d be in 2021. They got one over on the purple birds in a major way on Sunday, a loss that still stings as we head into the off week.

While the Ravens certainly didn’t do themselves any favors defensively in this game, all the credit in the world has to go to Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. Burrow was calm and cool in the pocket all day long as the Ravens threw numerous types of blitzes his way. He was dissecting the soft spots in the Ravens secondary, and knew exactly when to take the back breaking deep shots to his best friend out of LSU.

Marlon Humphrey was matched up on Chase for the vast majority of the day, and even he would admit, he got absolutely cooked. Chase simply refused to be tackled on Sunday, and the Ravens were apparently more than happy to defer to his wishes. He finished the day with a touchdown and over 200 receiving yards, and now sits at the top of the league in that category. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t catch the football six weeks ago, right?

Even that Bengals defense, who we’ve talked highly of for the entirety of this season so far, vastly outperformed their expectations. Lamar Jackson and company, coming off their most dominant performance of the year, was just outmatched up front. Perhaps they took the Bengals too lightly, perhaps it just wasn’t their day, but however you slice it, the Bengals out-Raven-ed the Ravens.

They imposed their will on both sides of the ball, with two late rushing touchdowns courtesy of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine ultimately putting the final nail in the Ravens’ coffin. Now, the Bengals sit at (5-2) with tiebreakers over the Ravens and Steelers. With a more than winnable matchup against the New York Jets on Halloween approaching, it’s unlikely that their winning ways will cease this week. There’s no other way to slice it, the Cincinnati Bengals are a legitimate threat again, and need to be treated as such.

Week 7 Wrap up

Thank God that’s over!

As the Ravens head into the bye week licking their wounds and setting their sights on Minnesota, the weekend ahead proves to be a fright for at least one team around the AFC North. Get it? Fright, because it’s Halloween? Sorry, you were spared the corny jokes last time, that couldn’t possibly happen two weeks in a row.

Anyway, it should be interesting to see how things shake out between the Browns and Steelers, and heaven forbid the Bengals come out and stub their toe against the New York Jets (and very possibly Joe Flacco after he was traded from Philadelphia). All hell breaks loose.

Have a spooky rest of the week, and we’ll see you back next time for another spin around the AFC North!

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