(CBS Baltimore) — The AFC North remains the most competitive division in football, with three likely playoff contenders and a Cincinnati Bengals team that can beat anyone in a given week. They’ll get their first crack at the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday. The Cleveland Browns welcome back running back Nick Chubb, who should be able to do some damage against a Houston Texans defense that can’t stop anyone. The Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, will look to work through a few issues on offense against the New England Patriots, who have quite a few issues of their own.
Rick Ritter, CBS Baltimore anchor and host of the Ravens’ ‘Purple Pregame’ show, breaks down AFC North matchups for Week 10.
All times listed are Eastern.
Houston Texans @ Cleveland Browns, Sunday, November 15 @ 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
The Texans defense is among the worst in the NFL. And against the run, they are the absolute worst, allowing 159.5 yards per game. According to Ritter, “I don’t think anybody in the NFL, jumping over to the defense real quick, is scared of that Texans D. Going into last week’s game against Jacksonville, they were giving up 31 points per game, which is just hard to believe.”
An explosive Browns offense should be able to move the ball at will, especially with Nick Chubb returning from injury. “It seems likely they’re going to be getting Nick Chubb back, which is a huge addition to that offense,” says Ritter. “When Chubb is healthy and Kareem Hunt is healthy, it’s hard to argue that there’s a better running game in the entire league. Those two just go together so well.”
The Browns passing game might be a story of addition by subtraction. “We talk about Odell Beckham going out for the season with that injury,” says Ritter. “Baker [Mayfield] actually looked better without Beckham. So can he keep that up if he doesn’t have to worry about forcing somebody the ball? Obviously, there was a little drama there this season, with him demanding the ball.”
The Browns defense will have their hands full with Deshaun Watson. “That offense is explosive,” says Ritter. “They can score at the drop of a dime. They had two touchdowns last week, a 55-yarder and a 77-yarder. I don’t think there’s a defense in the league that Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller can’t get behind, when they have the opportunity. So they can put up points.”
Myles Garrett and company will look to make Watson’s life difficult, while the Browns offense controls the ball and the clock on the ground. “It will be closer than people think,” says Ritter. “But I think the Browns get this win.”
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, November 15 @ 4:25 p.m. (FOX)
The Steelers are the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team, and they’ve beaten the Bengals in their last 10 matchups. Some of the Steelers’ wins this season have been close; they only beat the Dallas Cowboys by five points last week. Likewise, some of the Bengals’ losses have been close. Cincinnati also has an extra week of rest, with their bye following a nice win over the Tennessee Titans.
Even with all that in mind, “it is hard to bet against the Steelers right now,” says Ritter, “assuming Big Ben and company are fine, with some of them being placed on that COVID list. This is a crazy stat to throw out here. If Ben Roethlisberger keeps up on this pace, he is going to break his single-season touchdown record at 38 years old, which is really just hard to believe. Up there is Pittsburgh, they have three wide receivers out of that organization. JuJu Smith-Schuster seemed to start coming along the last couple of games. He looked great against Dallas. Obviously, Chase Claypool, we know what he can do. And Diontae Johnson. Roethlisberger has a slew of weapons at his disposal.”
And the Steelers defense can be dominant, allowing 317.4 yards and 20.1 points per game. They’ve also piled up 32 sacks, best in the league. Bengals rookie QB Joe Burrow has endured his fair share of sacks, but it hasn’t seemed to slow him down. “Don’t sleep on this guy,” says Ritter. “He’s a competitor. He knows how to go out and play.”
And he has a few weapons around him, with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. “I can’t talk enough about Tee Higgins,” says Ritter, “how special this guy looks already, being so young and what he’s going to be. In a couple years, that guy, maybe even sooner, is going to be a top-five receiver in this league. I don’t expect Joe and them to roll over in any way in this game.”
The Steelers are favored by 10 points, though the game could be closer. According to Ritter, “you can’t bet against Pittsburgh right now. I think they win this one.”
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots, Sunday, November 15 @ 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
The Patriots, with their continuing struggles, almost handed the lowly New York Jets their first win. They’ll need to play a whole lot better to keep pace with the Ravens and improve upon their 3-5 record this week.
The Ravens have their own issues, which, given their 6-2 record and personnel, are the kind of issues most teams would be happy to have. Baltimore leads the league in rushing, averaging 170.1 yards per game. Their passing game is only slightly more productive, putting up just 176.9 yards per game, among the NFL’s worst.
The offensive issues were evident against the Indianapolis Colts defense, admittedly one of the league’s best. “That offense did not look good in the first half,” says Ritter. “[In the] second half, we start to see Lamar Jackson the MVP from last season a little bit. Kind of get into his groove, kind of take the game over.”
A lot of the focus falls on the wide receivers and allowing them to make plays. According to Ritter, “there’s so much talk about the Ravens wide receivers and them not winning at the line of scrimmage in terms of those one-on-one-matchups. They have to get Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown the ball. There has been a lot of talk here in Baltimore and around the country about finding ways to get this guy the opportunities. And that falls on Greg Roman. He’s only had about 50 yards receiving the last two weeks. This is their number-one receiver. He can take the top off of the defense. He can get behind those safeties. In order for this passing game to get to that next level, they have to get ‘Hollywood’ Brown involved.”
The offense has become predictable. “Lamar Jackson said today that defenses are calling out their plays on offense,” Ritter relayed. “Obviously, that’s a big concern, and it falls on the offensive coordinator. They have to switch things up, they have to get going.” Dez Bryant, recently activated from the Ravens’ practice squad, could help change that. Though it’s hard to expect too much from a receiver who hasn’t played since 2017.
Despite their offensive issues, the Ravens remain a playoff contender, even as they chase the the Steelers. “They’re going to be okay,” says Ritter. “They’re going to make the playoffs. Lamar can take over a game. They have time to fix this stuff in the backend of the season with a favorable schedule. I have the Ravens winning this game on Sunday night football.