Thursday night marks the opening of the 2018 NFL season, but the AFC North will have to wait until Sunday to take the field for the first time. The Browns play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the Cincinnati Bengals face the Colts in Indianapolis and the Baltimore Ravens are at home against the Buffalo Bills. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot to talk about ahead of each team’s regular-season debuts. Here’s the most need-to-know for the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals for Week 1.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The big news of the week ahead of Sunday’s Steelers-Browns matchup is the continued absence of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell, who has skipped all of training camp and the preseason for the second straight year—a response to being given the franchise tag for the second straight year—did not report as anticipated on Wednesday and isn’t going to be with the team for Week 1.
And, as Behind the Steel Curtain’s Simon Chester reported, that holdout may extend well into the regular season. Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, said to SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday that he may not show up until Week 10, right up against the deadline to allow Bell to play this year.
This has created drama, not just among fans but also Bell’s teammates. Chester broke down the numerous comments made Wednesday by Steelers offensive linemen about Bell, including guard Ramon Foster calling Bell “selfish,” and guard David DeCastro suggesting the back sit out the whole season. Second-year player James Conner will get the start at running back against the Browns on Sunday.
Baltimore Ravens: SBNation’s Thomas George made a case for why the Ravens and veteran quarterback Joe Flacco “still need each other,” but the future of the position in Baltimore is approaching rapidly. That began when the Ravens moved up in the first round of this spring’s NFL Draft to snag quarterback Lamar Jackson with the 32nd-overall pick.
Now, Jackson is the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, with Robert Griffin III the No. 3. That makes Jackson the next man up if Flacco suffers an injury or takes yet another step back in his performance.
Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle P. Barber also examined the rest of the Ravens’ depth chart maneuverings post-roster cutdowns, and noted that center and left tackle are both areas of weakness. It also appears that tight end Nick Boyle will get the start while rookie Hayden Hurst continues to work his way back from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot.
Meanwhile, Logan Levy looks to the ghosts of Ravens past and wonders whether the Ravens failed to adequately develop 2015 Round 1 draft pick, receiver Breshad Perriman, or if it was a draft-day failure that could not have been avoided. Perriman remains a free agent after being released by the Ravens in Saturday’s final roster cuts.
Cincinnati Bengals: One of the Bengals’ key defensive starters will be sidelined for the first quarter of the 2018 season, with linebacker Vontaze Burfict serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy.
Though Burfict is no stranger to suspensions and the rules that go along with them, not everyone knows what is or is not permitted of suspended players. Cincy Jungle’s Rebecca Toback listed them off this week, which include Burfict being banned from attending any NFL games during the four-week ban even as a spectator in the stands.
One of the Bengals’ goals this year is to field a much-improved offensive line. In 2017, the team ranked just 31st in rushing yards, while Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked 39 times. And newly-minted Bengals starting right guard Alex Redmond has an idea of what will help these efforts: Coaching.
Per Cincy Jungle’s Nick Manchester, Redmond’s rise to the starting ranks is due in part to new offensive line coach Frank Pollack appreciating his physical aggressiveness. Former line coach Paul Alexander, fired in January? Not so much. Redmond said, “I’ve had other coaches in the past tell me to be something I wasn’t and they’re gone now, thankfully.”