The Pittsburgh Steelers have the week off, which should give Ben Roethlisberger time to recover from the injury he suffered in Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders. When he returns to the field in Week 12, it will be against the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. Though the Steelers have a bye week, there are AFC North games worth watching.
Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET in Baltimore
The 4-5 St. Louis Rams are sitting in second place in the NFC West behind the 7-2 Arizona Cardinals and ahead of the 4-5 Seahawks and 3-6 49ers. The Ravens and Browns have two victories a piece at the bottom of the AFC North. It is highly unlikely the Ravens will become threatening contenders in the division, so at this point they are playing for draft position.
The Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is experimenting with a reinforcement system using stickers to reward players for giving their best effort. Given the team's dismal record, avoiding a 2-8 record should be motivation enough to earn a W. The team has their work cut out for them, however. Though Rams quarterback Nick Foles is struggling, rookie running back Todd Gurley has had an absolutely phenomenal season this far. The Ravens have a decent run defense, allowing only 98.7 yards per game, a respectable 10th in the NFL. If the Ravens can limit Gurley and Foles continues to struggle through the air, the team has a chance of winning.
The Ravens will still face challenges. After all, the strength of the Rams has always rested in their stellar front seven on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams have limited their competitors to 20.3 points per game, a statistic that lands them 8th in the NFL. Also notable, they allow only 222.4 passing yards per game (6th in the league). With a team-total 29 sacks on the season, the Rams defense is likely to exploit the Ravens offensive line. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will be under pressure a lot on Sunday.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Arizona Cardinals
Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC
The Cincinnati Bengals fell to 8-1 after a humiliating loss against the Houston Texans that included a dropped pass by wide receiver A.J. Green in the last moments of the game. After eight weeks of wins, the Bengals did not look like an undefeated team when they took on J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, have performed consistently well during the season. Their worst defeat was at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6 Heinz Field. The Steelers won 13-25 under backup quarterback Landry jones. Since then, the Cardinals have not lost, beating the Ravens 18-26, the Browns 34-20, and the Seahawks 39-32.
The Bengals are a better team than the last three teams the Cardinals have faced, but they have surely lost momentum coming off of a loss to one of the struggling AFC South teams. Plus, the Bengals will not be playing in front of a home crowd.
The Cardinals average 33.6 points per game, 2nd in the NFL. Their defense, not quite on par with the offense, allows 20.6 points per game, which places them 11th in the league. The Bengals offense is also strong, averaging a 5th-best 26.1 points per game. Their defense is top-ranked in points allowed with only 16.9.
Bengals Cornerback Pacman Jones and defensive end Michael Johnson are both listed as doubtful for Sunday. It could still be a big day for the unit, however. The Cardinals have lost 10 fumbles on the season, a statistic the Bengals defense will strive to exploit. Also helping the Bengals' defense is the possible absence of Cardinals offensive lineman Mike Iupati who suffered a scary neck injury last week.
These two teams are evenly matched, but the edge goes to Arizona. Playing in front of a home crowd with quarterback Carson Palmer at the helm, the Cardinals have a distinct advantage. Furthermore, the Bengals are notorious for losing momentum and losing when it matters most. After last week's lost against Houston, Cincinnati is apt to do what they do in past seasons- choke.
A loss for Cincinnati could open up the AFC North even more and present an opportunity for the second-place Steelers to narrow the gap and creep up on the Bengals.
** The Cleveland Browns have a bye week.