(CBS Pittsburgh) — The Baltimore Ravens lead the ultra-competitive AFC North, having won four straight. Aside from their Week 4 win over the Denver Broncos, every game has been decided in the final minutes with a margin of victory smaller than a touchdown. That includes Monday night’s overtime win against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns are both coming off of close losses. The Bengals let a win over the Green Bay Packers slip through their fingers. The Browns couldn’t escape Los Angeles with a win, despite dropping 42 points on the Chargers. And then the Steelers continued to find their way, topping the Denver Broncos for their second win.
CBS Pittsburgh sports anchor Bob Pompeani looks at the four AFC North matchups in Week 6.
All times listed are Eastern.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Detroit Lions, Sunday, October 17 @ 1:00 p.m.
The Bengals head to Detroit with a 3-2 record, though they probably should be tied with the Ravens atop the AFC North. Kicker Evan McPherson missed game-winning field goal attempts late in the fourth quarter and again in overtime. (Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed multiple attempts himself.) The bright side is that Joe Burrow once again put Cincinnati in a position to win. He threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions. The defense mostly held up against Aaron Rodgers, sacking him twice and knocking him down five times.
They’ll get an easier matchup in Week 6 against the winless Lions. Detroit just lost another heartbreaker on a last-second field goal, when Greg Joseph hit a 54-yarder with time expiring. They’re due for a win. “They’ve come oh so close to winning, and a couple of games that really should have won,” said Pompeani. “Tucker’s 66-yard field goal, and then what happened last week actually got to a Dan Campbell, the head coach. He broke down in the media press conference afterwards. So both of these teams really need a win.”
The Lions are desperate, which makes them dangerous for the Bengals. Jared Goff is capable under center. And Campbell’s emotion-filled interview may have inspired Detroit to play over its head. Their bad luck will eventually run out.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, October 17 @ 1:00 p.m.
The Chargers used to find ways to lose games. Now they’re finding ways to win them. Just witness the 47-42 shootout in Cleveland last week. That came two weeks after a 30-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Justin Herbert is emerging as one of NFL’s best young quarterbacks. He torched a strong Browns defense for 398 yards and four touchdowns, giving him the most 300-yard games of any QB in their first two seasons. He has plenty of help on offense, of course, with game-changing talent at the receiver and running back spots. Mike Williams alone had eight catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
The Chargers will face a Ravens teams that’s enjoyed its own fair share of success in close games. According to Pompeani, “this is the marquee matchup, especially after the Ravens won the way they did on Monday night. Just a brilliant performance by Lamar Jackson. Really one of the first times I’ve seen a guy almost single-handedly carry a team to a win in that second half. But Justin Herbert’s done the same, a shootout with Cleveland last week.”
Both teams come in 4-1, riding the strong play of their young quarterbacks. Jackson threw for an absurd 442 yards and four TDs on 37-43 passing. “Two of the bright young stars,” Pompeani noted. “I think this is going to be a win for the Chargers. They typically lose games like this, going west to east. But they’ve been winning a lot of games I didn’t expect them to. And I would expect them to win this game, because Baltimore has won a lot of games that I, quite frankly, thought they were going to lose.
Arizona Cardinals @ Cleveland Browns, Sunday, October 17 @ 4:05 p.m.
After a loss to the Chargers, the Browns look to bounce back against the Cardinals. However, Arizona, to date, is the NFL’s only undefeated team. They’ve put up 30-plus points in four of their first five games, and Kyler Murray is playing at the top of his game. So far he has 1,512 yards passing, 10 TDs, and a rating of 113. But he’s also been sacked 10 times and taken a few hits along the way.
“Arizona has been walking the line,” Pompeani said. “They’re undefeated. Sooner or later that’s going to end. And I think that Kyler Murray is going to be under a lot of pressure. This defense in Cleveland is for real. The ground game of the Browns is also for real. So I think they’ll control the time of possession and win at home against Arizona.
The Browns defense is allowing under 300 yards per game, one of only four NFL teams. They also have 16 sacks so far, tied for third best in the NFL. Myles Garrett accounts for seven of them. The two-headed beast that is the Browns run game includes Nick Chubb, who’s piled up 523 yards, and Kareem Hunt, who has 293 yards. Cleveland leads the NFL in rushing yards.
The Cardinals don’t match up well with these strengths. Their run defense is one of the worst in the league, allowing 139 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry.
Seattle Seahawks @ Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, October 17 @ 8:20 p.m.
The Seahawks find themselves in the unusual position of not having Russell Wilson under center. He had surgery on his finger and could miss six to eight weeks. That leaves Seattle in the hands of Geno Smith, who will lead them into Pittsburgh in Week 6.
Smith went 10-17 for 131 yards and a touchdown after Wilson’s injury. He also threw an interception. “Geno Smith, one thing I’ll say about him is that he has the same kind of game skills, which is to say he can do the things on the run,” according to Pompeani. “He can break tackles. He uses his legs to buy some time. But this is going to be tough.”
Smith will have to rely on an offense that’s been middle-of-the-road all season. The running game is averaging just 104 yards per game, while the passing game is good for 247 yards per game. The Steelers are facing their own injury issues with offensive implications. Ben Roethlisberger has been banged up much of the season. And receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.
This could lead to more reliance on the ground game. Najee Harris ran for 122 yards against the Broncos, the first 100-yard game of his pro career. “I think the Steelers are going to find this run game to be something they’re going to lean on moving forward,” said Pompeani. “Najee Harris is going to get another 100 yards.”
The Steelers also come in with a bit of extra motivation. “The Steelers are playing at home,” Pompeani pointed out. “They want to get to .500. They have a bye week after this. This is going to be alumni weekend, and all the Hall of Famers are going to get their rings. There’s going to be plenty of emotion.”