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Week 11: Bengals @ Raiders

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Still trying to figure out why Lou does not blitz a bunch, at least he does not seem to blitz. I thought in the Baltimore game he was blitzing, and the guys were getting pressure, after that game I feel the pressure has fallen off, and I don’t notice the blitz as much 

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Each week at the Athletic - the beat writers of the four AFC North teams answer questions that is assembled into a column - a good read generally - gonna drop this week's as we are ready for the final sprint now:

https://theathletic.com/2960231/2021/11/19/afc-north-whiparound-week-11-handicapping-the-wide-open-afc-north-down-the-stretch/?source=dailyemail&campaign=601983

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Each week during the season, and at other points from February to August, our AFC North beat writers discuss their teams and provide a look at some of the key storylines making an impact on the division.

1. It’s called the AFC North whiparound, so let’s start with a global topic — explain in your most polite way what the heck is going on in this division. Who is good, who is bad and who are the phonies?

Mark Kaboly (Stealers): They are all average teams that have a couple of elite players but many more issues. But average in the AFC this year means that a team could end up making a run if it gets healthy down the stretch and enters the playoffs playing at its best. Lamar Jackson will keep the Ravens in it and the Stealers’ history of winning just enough as an average team will keep them around. Right now, it seems like the Browns are hopeless, but if Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are healthy, they can change that. The team that has the best chance of putting it together is the Bengals. I’ve never believed the narrative that teams can’t handle success, but the Bengals, well, showed they can’t handle success. If they ironed some things out over their bye week, they might be in the best position to be a tick over average, which makes them division champs.

Jay Morrison (Bengals): I don’t think there are any phonies. Let’s start there. I’ll put this division up against the NFC West as the best. We’re 10 weeks into the season and all four AFC North teams are above .500. There’s nothing phony or fluky about that. And I don’t think anybody can call any of these teams “bad,” not with a straight face at least. So, the question should be: “Who is good?” And the answer is, “Who the hell knows?” I still think the Ravens are the team to beat. They have five division games remaining to separate themselves, and the two best teams remaining on their schedule — the Packers and Rams — have to go to Baltimore. The Browns are good, but Baker Mayfield’s health is a huge variable. And the Bengals and Stealers are good-ish, straddling the line somewhere the midpoint between average and good.

Zac Jackson (Browns): The Browns were awful last week … and could still win the division. It’s not likely, but they could. The Stealers have the best defense, the Bengals probably have the best offense, the Ravens have the best player and the Browns, well, I don’t know what to think. Any chance the Browns have to do anything lies in their ability to win Nov. 28 in Baltimore. I don’t think the Ravens’ tackles can block the Browns, so we’ll see what happens.

Jeff Zrebiec (Ravens): I’m at the point where I’m ready to throw my arms in the air and admit that I have no idea how good or bad any of these teams are, including the one I cover. I’m not ready to say any of the four are Super Bowl contenders, yet I’m also not going to dismiss any of them. You don’t have to look hard to find things to like and dislike about all four teams. They all are good enough to beat any team on any given day and they’re all inconsistent enough to lose to or tie teams like the Dolphins and Lions. None of them are great. None of them are bad. They’re all just perfectly flawed, really good on their best days and thoroughly mediocre otherwise. How’s that for fence-sitting?

2. Assuming, as we do, that everybody has a chance in the division, which player on the team you cover needs to have one hell of a second half for that team to win the North?

Kaboly: I am tempted to say Ben Roethlisberger or Najee Harris because they need to have good second halves. I know I am sidestepping the “player” part of the question, but for the Stealers to have any chance at a division title, their offensive line has to continue to get better. It had four new players inserted into the lineup this season, including two rookies and a midround pick last year who played sparingly. They have gotten better, but for the offense to score more than 21 points per game, they are going to have to continue to improve. Harris will find the holes and Roethlisberger will make the handful of throws necessary to win, but in order for the Stealers to sustain drives and keep their defense fresh, they need to run the ball better and that starts with the offensive line.

Morrison: Joe Burrow can’t come anywhere close to matching the league-high 11 interceptions he’s thrown through nine games. If he does, the Bengals not only aren’t winning the North, they’re probably finishing last. But that would fall more into the expectations bucket, not necessarily a hell of a second half. Joe Mixon is the one who needs to do that. He’s been efficient as a runner and receiver, but the explosive plays are nowhere to be found. As defenses focus more on Ja’Marr Chase and the weather gets gross, Mixon is going to have to play a starring role. And defensively, Jessie Bates, by his admission, has to play a hell of a lot better. He hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t played anything like a guy who wants to be paid as one of the top safeties.

Jackson: Given the struggles of the passing game and the inconsistency of the defense, if I have to pick just one player, I’ll say Chubb. The Browns’ passing game scares no one, so their hope lies in running the ball and then running it some more. Chubb has missed two games with injuries and one to COVID-19, but he’s still a monster when he’s in the lineup.

Zrebiec: The only acceptable answer is Jackson. With a diminished backfield, a banged-up offensive line and a suspect defense, Jackson is shouldering more burden for the Ravens than ever before. If the Ravens are going to overcome some of their flaws and make a run amid a treacherous season-closing schedule, it’s going to be because Jackson plays like the league MVP. They’re going to need him to continue to cover up some of their weaknesses like he’s done for much of the year. In the non-quarterback division, cornerback Marlon Humphrey has to turn around what’s been a disappointing season and start making game-changing plays regularly. He’s plenty capable.

3. What was last week’s most alarming result: The Ravens’ no-show in Miami, the Browns getting shellacked in New England or the Stealers tying the Lions?

Kaboly: I can make an excuse for the Stealers with Roethlisberger being ruled out 18 hours before the game (but they did tie the Lions). This is a difficult decision because the other two teams lost horribly in different ways, but I am going with the Ravens. They were inept against a bad team. It showed that if Jackson doesn’t do it for the Ravens, it’s not going to get done. That’s a scary proposition.

Morrison: Regardless of the records, I will never be alarmed by any team losing a Thursday night game on the road. And while the point differential in New England was surprising, Bill Belichick’s ability to take away what a team does best, combined with the fact that what the Browns do best already was taken away by Chubb’s absence, keeps that result from triggering an alarm. But the Stealers … yeesh. It would be one thing if the Lions were hungry for their first win and played their best game of the season, but I doubt that was even in their top five. I don’t know who, and I don’t know what, but someone owes me something for sitting through that dreadful display on Sunday. The Stealers were in position to move into first place with back-to-back home games against the dregs of the NFC, and they barely escaped the Bears and tied the freakin’ Lions. That’s alarming, especially with five of their last eight on the road and seven of the eight against teams with .500 or better records. Yeah, good luck with that.

Jackson: If you’re sounding an alarm that indicates the Stealers could miss the playoffs by a half-game because they couldn’t beat the Detroit Kneecap Biters, that’s your answer. Otherwise, it’s the Browns. They were so good in almost every area the previous week in Cincinnati, then they got schooled in New England and team leaders openly questioned the coaches. The Mayfield roller coaster continues. The Browns have too much talent to be in fourth place, but here they are.

Zrebiec: Can we just say all of the above? If you are trying to rationalize the results, you can say that the banged-up Ravens were playing on the road on a short week, that the Browns were facing arguably the hottest team in the AFC without their top running back, that the Stealers were without Roethlisberger and a host of others. But all three teams still should have won, or at least in the Browns’ case, be more competitive. If I had to say which one was the most alarming, I’d probably say the Ravens, just because they made the Dolphins look like the ’85 Bears. But the Stealers’ and Browns’ efforts were pretty hideous as well.

4. Pro Bowl voting is starting to pick up steam. It may not mean much, but it is still something that we all like to debate. Predict how many Pro Bowlers your team will have and who they’ll be.

Kaboly: We all know there is a difference between who is picked and who plays, right? I will go under the assumption of who gets named to the team before the dropouts and the Super Bowl. All will come on defense for the Stealers — T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick. You can argue if Fitzpatrick is deserving, but that’s not the exercise. It’s who makes it and Fitzpatrick will make it for what he does rather than what he did this year. After everything circling through, I can see Harris and potentially Diontae Johnson making it if the right players drop out.

Morrison: Bates was a huge snub last year, but the Bengals’ social media team has made an incredible leap in quality content and engagement over the last year, so I could see that group mobilizing a fan vote that could push Bates over the top, especially if he starts getting back to his old self just as the voting opens. Chase already has won three rookie of the week awards, which are decided by fan voting. And Chase hasn’t just excited Bengals fans. He should have the stats and the popularity to get there. If Mixon has the type of second half I alluded to, he’ll be deserving. I don’t know if he’ll ever get enough fan votes, though. And then there’s Burrow. He’s at his best when the stage is the biggest, and he’s got the nationwide appeal. But it’s a crowded field. If Burrow cuts down on his picks and keeps the Bengals in the race till the end, he could sneak in. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson deserves to be in the conversation, but I doubt he will be. The same is true for defensive tackle D.J. Reader, although he’s been so dominant that the player and coach voting could offset Reader’s lack of name recognition outside of Cincinnati.

Jackson: Myles Garrett is a lock. Joel Bitonio is nearly a lock, and Chubb will be there, too, if he can stay healthy. Denzel Ward also belongs in the near-lock category, and that’s about it. The Browns have had too many injuries and inconsistencies to think that more of their players will go (not that I gave the Pro Bowl a second of thought before I answered this).

Zrebiec: I’ll set the over/under of Ravens’ Pro Bowl selections at four and I’ll go over. Jackson, fullback Patrick Ricard, tight end Mark Andrews and kicker Justin Tucker are in a good position to go. And then at least one player from a group that includes defensive end Calais Campbell, wide receiver Marquise Brown, center Bradley Bozeman, guard Kevin Zeitler and return specialist Devin Duvernay will probably get the nod. I’ll say five total. There’s a long way to go, but Brown is putting together a Pro Bowl-type season. It’s tough to break the ice as a first-time pro Bowler though and the AFC is loaded with quality wide receivers.

5. There are no AFC North games this week, but three of the four teams are playing in relatively winnable games. Who has to be on upset alert this week: the Ravens, who play the Bears, and the Browns, who face the Lions?

Kaboly: Whatever you think will happen, pick the opposite. It’s a shame but that’s what it has come down to. I recently just saw the Lions and Bears play and they both stink, so it is hard for me to pick them to win. So, go with the Ravens and Browns in bounce-back performances. A win for the Bengals is very important as they’re coming off a bye. A win puts them in a good position, but which version of the Raiders are they going to run into? I think the bad one. For a bonus point, I wouldn’t count out the Stealers. They tend to play well in games they shouldn’t win.

Morrison: The Lions aren’t going winless, so anyone standing between them and win No. 1 needs to be alert — especially the Browns, who have failed to top 17 points in four of their last five games (how does that make all you Bengals fans feel after giving up 41?). Even though the Browns are at home and favored by nearly three times as many points, I’m going with them as the more likely casualty. To be clear, I’m not predicting a loss. I just think the Browns are in a more dangerous spot. I give the Lions a 15 percent chance of pulling the upset and the Bears a 10 percent shot.

Jackson: After last week, the Browns can’t assume anything. But the truth is the Lions stink and played 147 plays last week in their tie at Pittsburgh. There’s never been a more ideal setup for a Browns get-well game, and I think they’ll temporarily get well. The Ravens should be on upset alert because the Bears are off a bye and because the Ravens were last seen resembling anything but a playoff team in that Thursday debacle.

Zrebiec: It’s the Ravens. When you’ve needed a record-breaking field goal to beat the Lions and you’ve already lost handily to the Dolphins, you should be on upside alert regardless of the opponent. The Bears aren’t bad. Justin Fields is getting better every week. The Bears could get some guys back defensively. The Ravens have never won in Chicago. The Ravens are full of surprises, but there’s little evidence to suggest that they are going to walk all over the Bears.

 

 

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Went and caught the Buckeyes monkey stomp Michigan St. today and hoping to see the Bengals handle the Raiders the same way. That would make my weekend complete.

Leaves have been handled as well…

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That must have been quite a game, seemed like everything the bucks tried worked perfectly.

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I seriously should have gone to this Raiders game.  Would have been so fun, and I want to see that new stadium.  

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1 hour ago, COB said:

I seriously should have gone to this Raiders game.  Would have been so fun, and I want to see that new stadium.  

And it would be warm....it is already winter here in the Frozen North.

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I just want to see a better rushing game, and using all 3 RBs. Better rushing game will equal a better day passing for Burrow. Oh and also let’s see a better short yardage game also.

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