By Matt Pawlikowski
Unlike most Sunday’s, this weekend is critical for the Steelers to get some help from some sources black and gold fans would never root for.
That starts with the Cleveland Browns, who take on Cincinnati in a key AFC North battle at Cleveland Browns stadium at 1 p.m.
The Browns have yet to win a game this season, while the Bengals, who the Steelers play next week are 3-2,coming off a loss to the Ravens.
Bengals lead, 42-36, Browns lead in Cleveland, 22-16; Bengals lead at Browns stadium since its opening in 1999, 8-5, and they own a six game edge at 42-36 and won the first matchup this year 34-27.
It all starts with the battle of quarterbacks. This is the second meeting between the two teams, and the first time while the Browns looked good, Andy Dalton was the difference maker. He made plays when it counted and rookie Brandon Weeden did not. Weeden has a knack for finding the opposing cornerback trying to make too many plays. His first win at home would be a huge boost.
Weeden knows the Bengals will be tough, especially up front.
“I think their front four is really good. They can rush the passer. I think they lead the league in sacks. They’re really good at creating pressure with their front four,” Weeden said. “Their secondary’s good. They’re a good football team. They’re a playoff team from a year ago and they’re a team that keeps getting better I think. We just have to go out and play well and continue to make strides. We need to win. However we can do it, we need to win.”
Dalton has completed 111 of 169 attempts for 1,345 yards and nine touchdowns against six interceptions. His primary target has been AJ Green who has 36 catches for 493 yards and four of those scores.
Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson came of age in the first meeting, hitting the century mark for the first time in his young career and came up big in the receiving game. He will be a big key to the Browns taking home a win, as will the fact Joe Haden, who was suspended the first four games, returns at corner.
Who to pull for No. 2 – The Dallas Cowboys once were one of the Steelers most hated opponents. Sunday, you can bet the team will be a fan when they take on the Ravens. While it won’t help in the fact it is not an AFC team, a loss is a loss and the Steelers need some help.
The Steelers almost got it last week as the Chiefs nearly downed the team in a 9-6 win.
“We’re chasing our A-game every week,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We want to have our A stuff. It’s like a pitcher, we want to have our best stuff every week. We didn’t have our best stuff.”
Baltimore is led by Joe Flacco and Ray Rice who have managed the no-huddle with ease and presented problems to each opponent they have played.
The key here will be whether Cowboys rookie running back Demarco Murray can come to life against a tough Ravens defense. He has averaged just 3.9 yards per game in a rush attack that averages just 68 per contest.
The last time the Ravens started a season 5-1, they won the Super Bowl, so in a way this is a must lose game, although next week they play Houston.
Who to pull for No. 3 – The Steelers aren’t the only AFC team to struggle this season. So have the Patriots who play at Seattle this afternoon at 4.
Sitting at 3-2, a loss would put them in near company with the Steelers. New England is averaging an NFL-best 33 points and 439.4 yards per contest so the record is misleading.
The Patriots lead the all-time series and have won the last two games. Tom Brady has tossed for 1450 yards and eight touchdowns, while on the other side of the ball Russell Wilson has 815 and just five touchdowns.
A key for Seattle is Marshall Lynch. The running back has 508 yards this season and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Who to pull for No. 4 – As much as it hurts, the Broncos. Why considering one of their wins came against Pittsburgh. Because at this juncture, the Chargers sit a 3-2. One of these teams will win the division and there is a good change the other will vie for the wild card.
This is a Monday night contest on ESPN.
A win makes the Chargers 3-0 in the division. San Diego is averaging 24.8 points per game, but last week were subject to big plays against the Saints.
Peyton Manning has completed 66.0% of his passes (130 of 197) for 1,507 yards with 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions and has been the key to the Broncos success, as his playmaking is not questionable. Phillip Rivers has 1251 yards and eight touchdowns on the year.
“Monday night I expect our fans to have a big part in it. It’s part of the reason that we’ve had a lot of success against Manning,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said. “They’re an off-the-line or a no-huddle team and the crowd can affect that greatly.”
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Matt Pawlikowski is a veteran journalist covering all things Steelers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.