The AFC North is the root of some of the week 14 top stories in the NFL. Three of the four teams are facing some form of turmoil this week. The Cincinnati Bengals remain in first place and they are the only team in the division that hasn’t dealt with off the field distractions. The news that Haloti Ngata will be suspended for the next four games has rocked the Baltimore Ravens. The quarterback controversy that Mike Petine inadvertently created by benching Brian Hoyer against the Buffalo Bills has opened the door for the Johnny Manziel supporters. Lastly, there have been conflicting reports about whether or not Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger broke his wrist during their home loss to the New Orleans Saints. Let’s take a closer look at the top stories around the AFC North.
The Ravens learned of Haloti Ngata’s four game suspension on Wednesday from team president Dick Cass. The suspension is the result of Ngata taking Adderall which is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Ngata has opted not to appeal his suspension and will train in Utah during his suspension. He is eligible to return to the Ravens on December 29th which is the day after their last game of the season, a home game against the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens said that they were blindsided by the suspension and consider it to be out of character for Ngata. General manager Ozzie Newsome said; “This is disappointing news for the Ravens. We are disappointed with Haloti but not more than he is with himself.”
Ngata acknowledges that what he did was wrong and had this to say; “I made a mistake and I own this. I took Aderall and take full responsibility. I am deeply sorry and broken over this. I let down my family, my teammates, Ravens fans and myself.”
There are four games left in the season for the Ravens. They will travel to Miami to face the Dolphins, then return to Baltimore to host the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their last road game will be in Houston against the Texans and their season ending game will be back at home against the Browns. The Ravens will turn to rookie Timmy Jernigan and second year player, Brandon Williams to fill the void left by Ngata’s suspension. Jernigan has come along well as an understudy to Ngata and will be the primary player responsible for replacing Ngata. This year has been one of Ngata’s best years as he is tied with C.J. Mosley for the team lead in interceptions (2), has 31 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and seven pass defenses. Ngata will lose $2 million of his $8.5 million base salary this season. He dominated the Dolphins center Samson Satele in their last match up. Fortunately for Satele, Ngata will be missing from the game this week.
Although the Bengals don’t have any controversy this week, they will be facing the pressure of having to progress under head coach Marvin Lewis. Lewis is currently in his 12th year coaching the Bengals. He is one of the longest tenured coaches but the franchise is looking for Lewis to guide the team past the first round of the playoffs. The Bengals have been the AFC North division leaders three times under Lewis and have made it to the playoffs a total of five times. The problem is they are yet to make that signature deep run into the post season.
To date, the Bengals sit atop the AFC North once again with an 8-3-1 record. They are on pace to be the #3 seed in the AFC. Bad play by Andy Dalton has been a hurdle that the team has not been able to overcome in the past few years. They lost to the Texans twice and last year lost to the San Diego Chargers at home. Dalton has thrown six interceptions in his three playoff appearances. The loss to the Chargers definitely ruffled some feathers within the front office. This is the year that Lewis, Dalton and the Bengals have to do better than they have done before. If not, change could come in Cincinnati. Lewis will host his hometown team this week when the Steelers come to town.
It was only a matter of time before Johnny Manziel got to take some snaps this season. Brian Hoyer had played well in the first half of the season. He even lead them to a 15 point fourth quarter comeback win over the Tennessee Titans which concluded with a precise 17 yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin. Some say that the Browns have won in spite of Hoyer which may have been the case in their last two wins, one against the Bengals and the other against the Atlanta Falcons. He threw three interceptions in their win at Atlanta.
The Browns were down 20-3 to the Buffalo Bills with 12 minutes remaining in the game last week. Hoyer had thrown two horrendous interceptions. They needed a spark and head coach Mike Pettine decided that it was time to see what Manziel could do. The decision was a good one. Manziel showed some signs as he led the team to their first touchdown of the day.
Some say that the rookie head coach didn’t handle the situation correctly because he didn’t come out in the post game press conference and say that Hoyer was still his starter. Critics say that is what caused the quarterback controversy. It’s hard to expect him to make such a statement at that point. The team was just coming off of a humiliating loss in a game that could have put them in a very good spot in terms of the wildcard race and kept them close to the Bengals in the AFC North.
Pettine ended up announcing that Hoyer was the starter in this game but he did leave the door open for Manziel to take the job. He never said that Hoyer is the guy going forward but declined to say whether or not Hoyer would have a short leash. There are some within the Browns organization that have said that Manziel is still working to grasp the playbook. Granted, Manziel does give the Browns a more dynamic player at the quarterback position. The thing that can’t be overlooked is that the Browns are 7-5 with Hoyer as their quarterback. All eyes will be on the quarterback position when the Browns go against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 435 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints. The problem was that he also threw two interceptions that led to two Saints scores. He struggled with his accuracy as shown by his completing 32 of his 58 pass attempts. One thing that Big Ben didn’t do was blame the inaccuracy on his right wrist that he banged on the helmet of Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. Hitting their hand on someone’s helmet during their follow through is one of the reasons why quarterbacks hate when they have the pocket collapsed into their lap. Pocket passers like to step up in the pocket and into their throws. The last thing that they want is to hit their hands on a helmet in the cold.
Roethlisberger was seen favoring his right hand from time to time during the game. There was a report that he had a broken bone in his right hand. The quarterback has denied that the wrist is broken or injured but acknowledged that he lost feeling in the hand. Roethlisbeger said that he “got the feeling back and is ready to role.” He also said; “Throughout games it’s not a rarity for quarterbacks to hit their hand on helmets, shoulder pads, whatever it was. I just know that the play to Antonio was the one that actually did the stinging.”
He did miss practice on Wednesday but head coach Mike Tomlin listed “non injury related” as the reason for Roethlisberger not practicing on Wednesday. Coaches will give their veteran players a day off of practice at times. He watched practice from the sidelines and road a stationary bike. There were no reports that Roethlisberger had a wrap or any kind of protection on his wrist. Nevertheless, Roethlisberger is a gamer. The Steelers lost a game that they should have won at home. There is no way that Roethlisberger would miss this week’s game against the AFC North division leading Bengals.
This will be an interesting week of football for the AFC North. Two of the games surely have playoff influence (Ravens vs Dolphins and Steelers vs Bengals) while the Browns face the current number two seed in the Colts. Each of the teams in the AFC North are in the playoff hunt and will be in search of a crucial late season win.
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