AFC North Match-Up Breakdown:
With Baltimore and Cleveland on the ‘bye’ week, it gives us a chance to take a look at some key match-ups in the AFC North and some other pivotal games this weekend:
Tennessee (3-1) @ Pittsburgh (2-2)
The Titans are a surprise team and the defense is ranked 1st in the NFL. They are 2-0 versus AFC North with wins against Baltimore at home and on the road at Cleveland. Last Sunday in Cleveland the Titans got their ground game jump started with Chris Johnson rushing for 101 yards. The key has been veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck, who has been on a roll. The team lost WR Kenny Britt for the season (injury) but that didn’t stop Hasselbeck from an effective performance.
The Steelers suffered a loss a in Houston last Sunday and the defense surrendered 155 yards rushing to Houston’s RB Arian Foster. Pittsburgh has a host of injuries. OLB Harrison is going to miss several weeks (eye injury/surgery). Through all the difficulties their secondary is ranked first against the pass (pass yards allowed). An area which has to improve quickly is the offensive line; the unit has not opened up running lanes for the ground attack. Most importantly, QB Big Ben is getting hit and sacked way too much; he might be playing on a sprained ankle which he suffered last week.
What to Know: Things look bad for the Steelers, can they win despite all the key injuries? One thing for sure, you can never count them out and they are tough at home. Expect the Steelers to get after QB Matt Hasselbeck. Tennessee will have to bring their “A” game to Heinz Field. The Titans might just challenge the Steelers run defense with RB Chris Johnson. Currently Pittsburgh’s ‘D’ is ranked 22nd vs. the run.
Cincinnati (2-2) @ Jacksonville (1-3)
Cincinnati has to be happy at 2-2. They were expected to be at the bottom of the division. The key is that the Bengals are getting back to their successful formula of relying on the ground game in RB Cedric Benson which helps set up the passing game–and their defense is playing really well. Rookie Andy Dalton is starting to make plays and last Sunday he led his team back on a critical drive.
Jacksonville could really use a win. They are already two games behind the Houston Texans and Tenn. Titans, both are 3-1. Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert is learning and has a ways to go. But, Jacksonville has a great running back in Maurice Jones-Drew.
What to Know: Head coach Jack Del Rio must get running back Maurice Jones-Drew more touches. Last week Jones-Drew only had 11 touches–are you kidding me?
AFC: KEY MATCH-UPS
Two pivotal match-ups in the AFC:
New York Jets (2-2) @ New England Patriots (3-1)
Think about the NY Jets and all the problems they have had running the football and relying on QB Mark Sanchez to deliver big passing plays. It’s not working. The Jets are 2-2 and lucky to be .500, they could have easily lost their home opener. Defensively, sure they have the best corner in the NFL, but the ‘front 7′ has not been dominant so far. The defense made some plays against Ravens QB Joe Flacco, but they didn’t exactly stop the ground attack when the Ravens executed 11 straight running plays.
The New England Patriots keep right on rolling. The QB Tom Brady and the offense puts up points and wears out defenses. However, their defense has to improve.
What to Know: Big game for the Jets. Can they fix their problems on offense and defense this week? A loss won’t kill their season, but it will make it that much more difficult moving forward. The Jets have to get balance back to their offense and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the veteran running back L.T. get more touches this game. The Patriots are looking to make things rough for the Jets by setting them even further back with a loss.
Philadelphia (1-3) @ Buffalo (3-1)
The Eagles are in a bind at 1-3 this season. They are lucky because the NFC East has no clear cut dominant team. Yet, a loss in Buffalo and then the panic sets in. The Bills are a balanced team offensively with the ground game and their air attack is formidable.
What to Know: Can the Eagles defense step up? Expect the Buffalo Bills to give the ball to running back Fred Jackson, who having a stellar year. The Eagles front seven hasn’t impressed and are ranked 30th against the run. You can try to stack the box on Buffalo but the problem is they have tons of weapons in the receiving game. QB Michael Vick is making plays but teams are game planning way better against him this year.