COLUMBUS (WCMH) – It’s AFC North week in Ohio with both the Bengals and the Browns facing huge tests for the second straight week early in the 2023 NFL season.
Here are keys to the game in each matchup:
Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) vs. Baltimore Ravens (1-0)
Sunday, Sept. 17 at Paycor Stadium, 1 p.m.
Run defense: The Ravens were knocking on the end-zone door in a tie game early in the fourth quarter during last season’s Wild Card game in Cincinnati. Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson collided with QB Tyler Huntley just shy of the goal line and Sam Hubbard returned a fumble recovery 98 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Had Huntley scored the Ravens might have been the team to advance thanks in part to 157 yards rushing. As it were, the team gained 155 yards on the ground, which matched the yards rushing in teams’ first regular season match, a 19-17 win for Baltimore. In the December rematch, the Bengals limited the Ravens to 110 yards rushing on the way to a 27-16 win. Stop the ground game of the Ravens, who are now without J.K. Dobbins for the season, and the Bengals have a bigger window to victory.
Protect Burrow: Quarterback Joe Burrow was only sacked twice in Week 1 at Cleveland, but of the 13 times he was blitzed he was knocked down 10 times. Keeping Burrow on his feet will be key against the Ravens, who registered five sacks and 10 QB hits against the Houston Texans in Week 1 and had the seventh most sacks in the league (48) in 2022.
Line: Bengals -3. O/U: 46.5.
Prediction: Bengals bounce back from an embarrassing loss to win 26-20.
Cleveland Browns (1-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)
Monday, Sept. 18 at Arcisure Stadium, 8:15 p.m.
Nick Chubb: Chubb picked up where he left off from 2022, when he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, on pace with his career average of 5.3 ypc, in totaling 1,525 yards and 12 touchdowns. Against the Bengals, he had 106 yards on 18 carries (5.9 ypc) and led the league in Week 1 with five carries of over 10 yards or more. That recipe mixes will with a Steelers run defense that allowed the San Francisco to run for 188 yards while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. The Steelers will also be without former Buckeye DT Cam Hayward (groin) to anchor the line and DT Larry Ogunjobi (foot) will be less than 100%. A rotation of backup linemen could open the flood gates for the Browns running game.
Flush Pickett: The Steelers did a good (translation: bad) job of nickel-and-diming their way down the field in Week 1 with QB Kenny Pickett averaging just 5 yards per pass attempt. Pickett was also hurried 29 times by the 49ers and sacked five times, as he often looked for a bailout under pressure. Whatever preseason hype surrounded the Pittsburgh offense quickly faded and the Browns defensive duo of Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith could feast on an unstable start to the Steelers season.
Line: Browns -1. O/U: 38.5.
Prediction: Browns end their 19-game regular-season losing streak in Pittsburgh, 27-17.