SportsLine Week 11 AFC North Picks: For Steelers-Chargers, 'The Key Is Najee Harris,' Says Larry Hartstein
(CBS Pittsburgh) -- It seems like no one wants to win the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens were shut down by the Miami Dolphins in Week 10. The Pittsburgh Steelers limped to a tie with the (still) winless Detroit Lions. And the Cleveland Browns were dominated by the New England Patriots. Only the Cincinnati Bengals have an excuse, they had the week off. But they're performances in the two weeks before showed very little promise.
This week all four teams have the opportunity to make their case again in the wide-open division. The Browns host the lowly Lions. The Ravens meet the Chicago Bears. The Bengals draw the Las Vegas Raiders. And the Steelers head to Los Angeles to play the Chargers.
SportsLine's Larry Hartstein breaks down AFC North matchups in Week 11.
All times listed are Eastern.
Detroit Lions @ Cleveland Browns, Sunday, November 21, 1:00 p.m.
Some predicted the Cleveland Browns could be a contender in the AFC North. And while that may yet pan out, little about their performance to date inspires much confidence. They've lost to good teams and squeaked past mediocre and bad teams. A Week 9 blowout of the division-rival Bengals is really the only exception to this pattern. Last week they were thoroughly dominated by the New England Patriots and rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
Injuries and the Odell Beckham Jr. distraction haven't helped. But the former is a mid-season problem that many teams face. According to Hartstein, "even though Baker Mayfield has a knee injury, has a shoulder injury and another injury I'm not even remembering right now, he is expected to start. Hopefully Nick Chubb comes back off the COVID list. That would be a big boost for the offense. But Donovan Peoples-Jones, who's basically starting now that OBJ is out of town, he limped off with an injury on Wednesday. So you have to watch his status for the Browns offense."
Mayfield's availability, of course, doesn't guarantee the Browns offense will show up. The Browns only put up seven points in the Patriots game, part of which he played. And a healthy Case Keenum isn't necessarily a better option. Kareem Hunt remains on injured reserve, and Nick Chubb may not play either. D'Ernest Johnson has proved a capable fill-in, averaging over five yards per carry when he gets a good chunk of the carries. He should feast on a Lions defense that gives up 135.7 yards per game on the ground.
The Lions may be happy they finally didn't lose a game. But that isn't the same as winning, of course. Detroit tied Pittsburgh, who was playing without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And like the rest of their season, it wasn't exactly pretty. But their were some bright spots. D'Andre Swift ran for 130 yards on 33 carries, more yards than Jared Goff threw for. Goff looks likely to sit in Week 11 with an oblique injury.
"Detroit probably will be without Jared Goff," Bell pointed out. "And they're not going to start their number two quarterback David Blough. Are they tanking? What are they doing? Tim Boyle, undrafted out of Eastern Kentucky, was on the Packers for three years. Looks like he will start, and we're seeing the market react. This number all the way from 10, looking at 11.5 or 12 for the Browns. To lay that kind of number, even against an unknown quarterback, is a little too much with how the Browns have been performing offensively."
Baltimore Ravens @ Chicago Bears, Sunday, November 21, 1:00 p.m. on CBS
The Ravens, at 6-3, still sit atop the messy AFC North, but they're coming off a shocking loss to the Miami Dolphins. Lamar Jackson continues to play at an MVP-worthy level, albeit with less help from his teammates. At times, he's seemed to carry the team to wins on his own shoulders. Jackson can't do it all though.
The Ravens defense, in particular, hasn't lived up to the high standards it's set in past seasons. They contained an unexceptional Dolphins rushing attack last week, but Jacoby Brissett and Tua Tagovailoa combined for 314 yards through the air. The defense also failed to put the ball back in Jackson's capable hands late in the fourth quarter after he narrowed the lead to five. Two weeks before they let Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals pile up 416 yards passing and three touchdowns in a blowout loss. The usually strong unit gives up an NFL-worst 283.3 passing yards per game.
They head to Chicago next to face the Bears and young quarterback Justin Fields. The Bears entered their bye week having lost four straight and essentially removed themselves from contention in the NFC North. But their have been some positives. Fields, while not the immediate savior fans may have hoped for, is making progress. His showing in Week 9 -- 17-29 for 291 yards, one TD and One INT -- may be his best of the season so far.
"They looked really good and competitive in that game at Pittsburgh," according to Hartstein. "Justin Fields is starting to progress against a Ravens defense that gives up a ton of big plays and has only forced seven turnovers this whole season -- five interceptions and two fumbles recovered. They're minus-five in turnover differential. Usually this team is plus-margin on turnovers. So that's a lot of points to lay. And the one issue you always have to check, Lamar Jackson's status. On Wednesday, he was out with a non-COVID illness. Most likely he'll be fine, and he'll play. But right now, if I had to pick, I would take the Bears. But so far. just staying away."
Cincinnati Bengals @ Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, November 21, 4:05 p.m. on CBS
The Bengals, like the Bears, are also coming off a bye. And that week away couldn't have come soon enough. In their previous two games, they allowed 34 points to the now 2-7 New York Jets and 41 points to the struggling Browns.
"I think they're going to make some changes defensively," Hartstein speculated. "Eli Apple giving up big play after big play, might be out of the starting lineup."
But will that be enough to keep up with the Raiders and stay competitive in the AFC North? "They have a horrible history coming off the bye, five straight losses, most of those in blowout fashion," Hartstein pointed out. "That's been a big topic in Bengals camp this week. They're very determined to stop that streak. And I think they have the right matchup against this Raiders team."
The Raiders are trying to bounce back from a terrible loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. And while the Chiefs have had their own issues this season, they're still the defending AFC champion, with an offense capable of putting up lots of points in a hurray. Mahomes showed that in Week 9, going 35-50 for 406 yards and five touchdowns.
"We saw what the Chiefs did to that Raiders secondary," said Hartstein. "And then you look at the Bengals, with Ja'Marr Chase and all the weapons that Joe Burrow has. I think it is a good spot for the Bengals."
Burrow has further realized some of the potential that so excited Bengals fans before his injury last season. And the addition of wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase has only helped. Chase is fifth in the NFL in terms of receiving yards, piling up 835 yards so far. He should be able to add to that this week.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, November 21, 8:20 p.m.
The Steelers and Chargers both sit in second place in their respective divisions coming into this matchup. With plenty of offensive talent to watch out for, Hartstein sees Steelers' running back Najee Harris as the man to watch for.
"Really the key is Najee Harris," Hartstein said. "He's going up against the worst run defense in all of football and we know Pittsburgh wants him to touch the ball 25-30 times a game, and they are running this kid into the ground. But this is a perfect week for him to dominate the Chargers."
For the Chargers, sophomore Justin Herbert struggled last week against Minnesota completing just 58.8% of his passes and recording less than 200 yards through the air for just the second time this season. He'll be hard pressed this week against a Steelers D that is currently 6th in the NFL against the pass.
Which picks can you make with confidence, and which Super Bowl contender goes down hard this week? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread, all from a model that has returned almost $7,500 since its inception, and find out.
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