This week offers a range of opening lines confronting the teams in our favorite conference, the AFC North.
-- The Bengals (1-11-1) are touchdown underdogs at home to the Redskins (7-6). The Bengals are now in "13 down, three to go" mode, while the Redskins struggle to maintain relevance in the NFC East. The Redskins desperately need a win. The Bengals are still wondering if Carson Palmer will play in the last two weeks of the season (puh-leeeeeeeezzzzz!!!). Considering how the Ravens picked the Redskins apart last week, the Bengals may have a shot here. Wait, who am I kidding! But, you know I'll be watching and rooting for my favorite bunch of perennial NFL losers!
-- In what may be the Game of the Week, the Ravens (9-4) are two-point favorites at home against the Steelers (10-3). The Ravens have hit their stride, and the Steelers continue to find ways to win in close games. This is a showdown of epic proportions. The Steelers need the win to stay atop the AFC North. A Ravens win would bring a tie for the conference lead and make the last two games on their schedules that much more meaningful for both teams. Pittsburgh enters the game on a four-game win streak, including last week's late-game emotional win over the Cowboys. The Ravens enter the game on a three-game streak of their own, including 29+-point wins over the Eagles and the Bengals and a two-touchdown win over the Redskins last week. Whichever way it goes, both these teams are likely destined for the playoffs. The line is less than the usual field-goal tip of the hat for home-field advantage, so this is essentially a "pick 'em" game.
-- The Browns (4-9) travel to meet the Eagles (7-5-1), who are two-touchdown favorites. The Eagles are 2-1 since the tie against the Bengals and feeling the momentum after a 48-20 win over the Cardinals and an important 20-14 conference win over the rival Giants. The Eagles need a win to keep pace with the Cowboys and the Redskins in the AFC East, since the Giants already have clinched the division and a playoff spot. The Browns enter this game on a three-game losing streak, including a 28-9 loss last week to the Titans. Even though their record is better than the Bengals', I believe the Browns are already in "Let's get this thing over with" mode, much as the Bengals are. The spread seems a bit generous, but with the Eagles at home on a roll and the Browns ready to call it done for this year, the Eagles could put it on them.
Look for an in-depth Redskins versus Bengals preview before this week's game.
GO, AFC NORTH!!