Ladies and gentleman, we’ve reached the midpoint of the NFL season and the AFC has three teams at .500 or better, Week 8 saw the Steelers edge clear of the pack in the AFC North at 4-2-1 despite the Bengals having won more games at 5-3. The Ravens have dropped to mediocrity at 4-4 whilst the Browns are in trouble (and I personally think underachieving) at 2-4-1.
Cincinnati Bengals 37, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34
The Bengals got the win in this one. However, the defence, despite showing promise early in the season, is struggling. They gave up a total of 576 to a Buccaneers top ranked offense. The fact that Cincinnati’s defence has given up a whopping 79 points whilst allowing 1,127 yards is extremely concerning. One player whose impressing is rookie Jessie Bates, who returned one Winston interception for a touchdown.
Whilst the Bengals defence was ineffective, the Buccaneers was defence fared no better against the Bengals offense. Once again, the Bengals benefited from the emergence of Tyler Boyd, who for 138 yards and a touchdown. Joe Mixon, who looks to be fully healed from his injury earlier in the year, racked up 123 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
Finally, already nursing several key injuries, the Bengals lost defensive end Carl Lawson for the rest of the season to a torn ACL. Fans also got a scare when star receiver A.J. Green emerged wearing a walking boot but Green reassured us that he would be ‘fine’. For the Bengals, the bye week could have come soon enough.
Pittsburgh Steelers 33, Cleveland Browns 18
I fear for Baker Mayfield. It’s unlikely we’ll get to see what he, and indeed the offence in general could be this season. It’s hard to get any real sense of Mayfield’s potential for consistency while the Cleveland offensive line is letting through pressure at it’s current rate. Mayfield was only able to pass for 180 yards. In today’s NFL that’s a slow half for several teams. Perhaps it’s time to let Austin Corbett, the 33rd overall pick, finally see the field. Whether that’s in place of Desmond Harrison at tackle or moving Joel Bitonio to left tackle and placing Corbett at guard, change is needed!
It should come as no surprise by this point in the season that Pittsburgh’s offense runs through James Conner. With 146 yards and two touchdowns rushing and another 66 yards receiving Conner had another impressive game. He became the first Pittsburgh player with three consecutive games scoring at least two TDs. He’s already contributed 9 touchdowns this year. Whilst Antonio Brown wasn’t the star this week he still contributed 2 touchdowns.
The Browns have now lost 15 straight games in Pittsburgh. The level of dysfunction meant the end of Hue Jackson’s terrible time as head coach came to an end and also saw offensive coordinator Todd Hayley dismissed. Mayfield must be excited at the prospect of getting someone at least new, if not competent, to call the plays. Unfortunately for Baker the Browns didn’t trade for any o-line improvements as the trade deadline passed.
Carolina Panthers 36, Baltimore Ravens 21
The Ravens offense was once again underwhelming. Despite scoring on a 14-yard run on the Ravens’ first drive, Alex Collins rushed for only 49 yards on 11 carries and lost a crucial fumble at his own 12. The Ravens failed to convert possessions into points and didn’t score again until 10 seconds to go in the third quarter. Flacco has a less than stellar outing himself, throwing two interceptions as he contributed to the team’s demise. The majority of the offenses anaemia was the result of injuries to the offensive line. The unit was forced to play a third-string left guard, promising rookie right tackle Orlando Brown and a left tackle (Ronnie Stanley) who suffered a big injury mid-game.
Surprisingly, Carolina moved the ball had against the Ravens top-ranked defence, compiling 386 yards. The Ravens are used to facing a big, mobile quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. On Sunday Cam Newton looked similar to a young Big Ben. Unfortunately, they had no real answers for Newton’s mobility and ability to extend the play (52 yards rushing) or Christian McCaffrey’s electrifying speed (2 touchdowns). However, it was surprisingly rookie DJ Moore who took advantage of the loose coverage for 129 yards.
LaMar Jackson saw more action than he had in past matches as he completed 4 of 5 passes. Jackson also threw his first touchdown pass to fellow Ravens rookie Hayden Hurst. With the Ravens season slowly ebbing away it may be time to consider more of Jackson. In this game Flacco completed only 22 of 39 for 192 yards. “We’re 4-4 and we’re an average team at this point,” safety Eric Weddle said. “But everything is right there for us to go get it.”. Is Jackson part of this solution?
Jessie Bates from Aaron Doster USA TODAY Sports
LaMar Jackson from Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Cumbleton writes about the AFC North for Ninety Nine Yards, covering the Ravens, Bengals, Browns, and Steelers. Johnny is a Philadelphia Eagles fan who has followed the game since 1990. You can follow more of his writing on Twitter @Cumbleton.