AFC North: Ravens and Bengals must avoid trap games
by Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts's AFC North sniper
Can you believe we’re already at week five? After this weekend, the majority of the teams in the league’s seasons will be roughly a third of the way over. (Unless, of course, your the Browns and your season is already over.)
Last week the regular refs returned and things started to get back to normal. Cincinnati and Baltimore - both heavy favorites - won going away and they are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
However, I wouldn’t say these teams are impervious to upsets, and even though The Bengals and Ravens play losing teams this week, neither game should be a cake walk.
With that in mind: Here are five things to consider heading into week five.
1. The Ravens are 4-7 in their last 11 road games. As good as Baltimore has been in recent years, its success on the road dating back to the 2010 divisional round has been minimal. Arrowhead is a traditionally tough place to play and the Chiefs will be chomping at the bit.
Of course, it should be noted that before the Ravens’ current road funk began, they went to Kansas City and trounced the Chiefs 30-7 in the 2010-11 Wild Card Playoffs. But, it should also be noted that Baltimore's road woes haven't been due to difficult opponents. Last season the Ravens were 2-0 on the road against playoff teams and 2-4 against non-playoff teams. They seem to take losing teams lightly when they travel to their stadium. Coach Harbaugh must ensure that doesn't happen in Kansas City.
2. The Bengals are 3-13 in their last 16 games vs. The Dolphins. Cincinnati is trying to return to the playoffs and Miami is in a rebuilding year, but the history of this series suggests that Andy Dalton and crew will have their hands full on Sunday. However, much of the discrepancy in this series stems from a three-decade stretch where these teams were on opposite sides of the spectrum.
That has reversed in recent years and two of Cincinnati’s wins have come in the last three tries. But, if Cincinnati’s offense is going to find success against the Dolphins on Sunday, it won’t be in the trenches. Heading into week five, the Dolphins are ranked second in Defensive Hog Index and the Bengals are ranked 30th in Offensive Hog Index.
3. Pittsburgh is leading the AFC in Offensive Passer Rating. Ben Roethlisberger is continuing to have a quietly amazing season. He has received literally no press for it because a 1-2 record, the influx of attention-grabbing rookies and the rise of the next wave of guys like Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, but if stats hold true this will end up being Big Ben’s best season yet.
His efficiency is astounding and he has shown a knack for making big plays - averaging 6.61 Real Passing Yards per Attempt - without making costly mistakes. After his game-losing interception in week one, Reothlisberger has yet to turn the ball over. However, his efficiency and big-play ability could be challenged against the Eagles this Sunday, as Philadelphia is ranked third in Defensive Passer Rating and fifth in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt.
4. History is setting up to repeat itself in the meadowlands. In 2008, the New York Giants were defending Super Bowl champs before playing the Browns in their fifth game of the season. Cleveland was one of the worst teams in the conference and were major underdogs. But, in one of the more shocking results of the season, the Browns crushed the Giants by a score of 35-14.
Four years later, the exact same scenario is playing itself out. The Browns stink, Eli and co. are trying to defend a championship and no one is giving Cleveland any kind of shot against the G-Men. Typically, Eli is at his best when the media starts counting him out, so the fact that the Giants are coming off of a loss on Sunday night might not work in the Browns’ favor.
5. AFC North Awards as we head into week five:
I'm starting a new segment this week. Every weekend preview column is now going to feature the current leaders in each award category.
MVP: Joe Flacco - Roethlisberger has slightly better numbers, but Flacco has his team in first place.
Offensive Player of the Year: AJ Green - If Calvin Johnson and the Lions continue to struggle, Green could end the season as the top wide receiver in football.
Defensive Player of the Year: D’Quell Jackson - The Cleveland linebacker has been an animal this season, making plays on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Rookie of the Year: Trent Richardson - His combination of speed and power make him a rare talent and someone destined for years of success in the Browns’ backfield
Coach of the Year: Marvin Lewis - Cincinnati never experiences repeat success when it comes off of a playoff season, so I didn't think the Bengals would be any good this year, but Lewis has them contending for the division after winning three in a row.
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