(CBS Pittsburgh) — Last season the Baltimore Ravens ran away with the AFC North, finishing 14-2 in the regular season. That doesn’t appear likely in 2020. The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the division, as the NFL’s only undefeated team, with the Ravens and Cleveland Browns close behind.
Ben Roethlisberger is a big reason for the Steelers’ resurgence, just as Lamar Jackson was integral to the Ravens’ success last season. Jackson’s passing numbers have come back down to earth this year, but he remains a dual threat who can beat a defense with his arm or his legs. The Steelers and Ravens meet this week for the first time this season as much more evenly matched rivals.
Seven games into the season, and the Browns appear to be finally realizing their potential. They sit at 5-2 with a decent shot at making the postseason. It should be noted, however, that the two losses were blowouts at the hands of the Ravens and Steelers, and two of their wins came against the Cincinnati Bengals, the division’s perennial punching bag. The Browns will face the inconsistent Las Vegas Raiders in Week 8.
There’s even something to be excited about in Cincinnati. Bengals rookie Joe Burrow is putting up big numbers, even as his team flounders once again. Can he continue his success against the 5-1 Tennessee Titans?
All times listed are Eastern.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, November 1, 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
The Steelers, coming off a close win over the Titans, are back to looking like playoff contenders. While much of the inspiration starts with Big Ben’s comeback, Pittsburgh is strong on both sides of the ball. “This is such a good football team,” says White. “Their defense is one of the top three in the NFL. And Ben just continues to get better with each week. This is going to be a great run. They are right now 9-1, just 9-1, to win the Super Bowl, fourth best overall in the entire NFL. To begin the year, they were the 10th best team to win the Super Bowl at over 30-1.”
The Steelers are coming off a tough win over the Titans. They head to Baltimore, as an underdog, to battle the Ravens for the AFC North lead. John Harbaugh’s team will be well rested from the bye and ready for the division rivals. According to White, “over the entire time since the NFL has put in a bye week, the ATS (Against The Spread) record has been about 50 percent, a little bit more to the team that had the bye. Maybe a 52, 53 percent cover rate on the team that had the bye. John Harbaugh [is] 9-4 off of bye weeks. He’s one of those guys that actually uses that extra time and definitely helps his team.”
The rest and added preparation certainly can’t hurt in what is typically a hard-fought matchup. “This game, normally, when the Steelers play the Ravens, somebody wins by three points,” says White. “This is one of the closest battles, year in and year out, that their ever is. I’m expecting another game decided by a field goal late.
Las Vegas Raiders @ Cleveland Browns, Sunday, November 1, 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
The Browns haven’t made the playoffs in almost two decades. But this might finally be the season they take that next step. White has high hopes. “I’m going to make the Cleveland folks happy, I’m going to say yes, they’re going to make the playoffs this year. It’s nice that the NFL added an extra team as well. That definitely helps, with a 5-2 [record] right now. My projected model right now showing 9.8 wins and the Browns firmly in the playoffs. They have to stay healthy. They just lost OBJ last week. But I still think they have enough weapons. We saw a nice game out of Baker Mayfield. This is gong to be a game they need to get. They need to beat the Raiders.”
The Raiders have showed flashes of progress this season in their inaugural season in Las Vegas. Look no further than their win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Then, coming out of a bye week, they let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers walk all over them. As White points out, “you beat the best, the Super Bowl champs, the Chiefs, who are still probably the best team in the NFL, then you lose by 25 to Tampa. They’re probably somewhere in between. I think the Raiders are still a work in progress under Jon Gruden. I think they’re a couple years away. They need a couple more pieces on defense. Right now I have them rated two points below an average NFL team. They’ve got an outside shot at making the playoffs. But they’re a longshot to win the AFC at over 100-1.”
Tennessee Titans @ Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, November 1, 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
The Titans cruised to a 5-0 record to start the season. But then came up just short against Steelers last week, after letting the game almost get away from them in the first half. A last-second field goal could’ve pushed the game to overtime. But it wasn’t to be. Tennessee remains a playoff favorite. “10-1 to win the AFC, 20-1 to win the Super Bowl,” according to White. “To win their division they’re a favorite at -210.”
The Titans stay in the AFC North this week when they face the Bengals. Their middling pass defense is giving up 272 passing yards per game. It will have its hands full with Burrow. The Bengals rookie QB is averaging 289 yards per game through the air, among the best in the NFL. “He is having a great year,” says White. “Over 400 passing yards last week. And he does look like the real deal. But he’s only the second favorite, he’s +225 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. The favorite is Justin Herbert from the Los Angeles Chargers. He’s -170. Should be fun. If we get Tua Tagovailoa back in the mix, maybe those three will have an amazing run to the wire. If you like Joe Burrow, +225, that’s nice odds. I think he’s got almost better than a 50-50 chance to win the award.
No matter his standing in the Rookie of the Year race, he has the Bengals on the right path. But it will be up to the Cincinnati defense this week to slow Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry. If they can, just enough, the Bengals might earn their second win of the season. They’re currently 5.5-point underdogs at home.
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