Browns in third place as Bengals now tied atop AFC North with Ravens

The Bengals upset the Ravens 41-17 and are now tied atop the AFC North as the Browns are now in third.

The 4-3 Cleveland Browns now find themselves a game behind co-leaders Baltimore and Cincinnati following the Bengals ambushing of the Ravens,  41-17. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been abandoned by Cleveland and are sitting alone in the AFC North basement at 3-3, resting their aging team in advance of a trip to the shores of Lake Erie as part of this year’s Halloween celebration.

Last season, the AFC North sent three teams into the playoffs. This year, going into Qeek 8, all four teams are at .500 or better. Overall, the Division’s won-loss record is 17-10. It might be even better except that the teams have to play each other in Division games.

Nevertheless, the perception is that the AFC West is the class division in the AFC and that the Kansas City Chiefs are a new dynasty. Can’t wait to see when Patrick Mahomes breaks Tom Brady’s record for most Super Bowl wins. Well, so far we are holding at one and counting.

The recent narrative has been that, having survived a wave of preseason injuries, the Ravens were positioned to lord it over the bumbling Browns, aging and crumbling Steelers and bungling Bengals, and coast to a division title so that they could be hammered by Mahomes and the Super Bowl-bound Chiefs.

Accordingly, the Ravens were favored at home by a comfortable -6.5 spread according to Betsided.com. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the Bengals did not follow the script. Quarterback Joe Burrow passed for 416 yards on 23 completions in 38 attempts with two TD passes. The Bengals defense held Lamar Jackson to 257 yards on 15 completions in 31 attempts.

Ja’Marr Chase accumulated 201 receiving yards and a touchdown versus Baltimore. Apparently, he wasn’t all that intimidated. Remember, Chase is the rookie receiver that all the genius draft experts told Cincinnati not to draft in lieu of offensive tackle Penei Sewell, a can’t-miss prospect at offensive tackle.

Chase has 754 yards so far on the year. That’s not bad for a draft bust. If Sewell had been drafted by the Bengals, he might or might not be starting.

More important was the Bengals defensive line that came up big versus the Ravens. With five sacks on the day, the Bengals now have 19 for the season. They have already surpassed their entire output for last year by two. Holdover Sam Hubbard had two and a half sacks versus the Ravens.

Former Brown Larry Ogunjobi has emerged as an anchor for the Bengals interior, which was totally decrepit last season. Ogunjobi was inconsistent with the Browns, having occasional brilliant games, but appearing to struggle at other times.

Possibly due to playing hurt, suffering injuries that were not severe enough to take him out of the lineup, but enough to diminish his performance. Whatever it was that limited him with Cleveland seems to have been largely eliminated with Cincinnati.

He had a monster game versus Baltimore, sacking Lamar Jackson once and combining with Hubbard on a second sack.

Free-agent signee Trey Hendrickson contributed another sack. He has been a strong counterpart for Hubbard all season.

The addition of Ja’Marr Chase, the return to health of Joe Burrow, and the turnaround on the defensive line are the three most obvious differences between the 2020 and 2021 teams. All three factors came into play in the victory over Baltimore.

Now, some comments about Baltimore.

The Ravens were hit hard by injuries in the preseason, That storyline has been the talk of the NFL. The resourcefulness of coach John Harbaugh and the guts of the organization have been applauded, rightly so.

At the same time, however, this writer has criticized the direction taken by general manager Eric DeCosta who has chosen to build up the wide receiver corps at the expense of the offensive linemen’s room. The drafting of speedy wide receivers and the trading away of Pro Bowl offensive lineman Orlando Brown (replaced by smaller Alejandro Villanueva from Pittsburgh) and a late first-round draft pick wide receiver) is just what the fans want to see, but it remains to be seen whether it is the best approach or not.

Should Jackson be converted to a pocket passer? DeCosta seems to think that this is his inevitable fate. Or is he more of a threat as a dual-threat option? Opinions vary, but this fan was much more scared of the 2019 team that led the NFL in rushing yardage with over 3,000 yards.

This year, the Ravens have been able to win some close games, but the pendulum may swing the other way later in the season.

The Bengals and Ravens are now tied, but the Ravens suddenly are looking more vulnerable.

In terms of defensive points allowed, the Bengals have the fewest with 18.3 points per game (ppg). The Steelers are second with 22.0 ppg, followed by the Ravens with 23.4 ppg and the Browns with 23.6 ppg.

On the other hand, the Browns are second in the entire NFL in fewest yards allowed per game, with only 295.6 yards per game. The Bengals have surrendered 339.6 ypg, the Steelers have given up 352.3 ypg, and the Ravens have given up 382.3 ypg.

This is just a statistical fact. For whatever reason, some fans seemed to get upset about this last week, but to clarify, no one is saying that it proves that the Browns are the second-best defense in the NFL or indeed that they are any good at all on defense.

You may certainly still advocate for the dismissal of defensive coordinator Joe Woods or rank the defenses in any order you wish (though I personally suspect that old Joe might be better than most people seem to think). Buffalo leads the NFL with 270.2 ypg, in case you are interested.

Offensively, the Bengals are averaging a robust 27.0 ppg, followed by the Ravens with 26.7 ppg, the Browns with 24.7 ppg, and the Steelers with only 19.5 ppg.

Pittsburgh was idle this week. If you were to choose one team that would benefit from an extra week of rest, it would have to be Big Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

If you think that Roethlisberger looks like death warmed over, it might be because it is true. But the extra week of rest will help the Steelers and their bearded vampire quarterback enormously.

There will be no reason that they cannot play winning football when they are reincarnated on Halloween one more time.