The first half of the NFL season is in the books, and a handful of AFC teams have started to pull away from the pack. Others need to win now, or winning won’t matter in the season’s second half.
Week 9 features two important AFC divisional games, as Pittsburgh heads to Baltimore and the New York Jets land in Miami. The Steelers, who have been without their starting quarterback, still find themselves leading a messy AFC North, and the only team with a winning record. They’ll face the battered Ravens, who also remain in contention despite a four-game skid. The Jets are watching their season slip away amidst continuing quarterback issues. They won’t find any relief against a Dolphins team starting to come into their own.
CBS Sports announcer Ian Eagle has been covering the NFL for almost two decades. He took some time to preview the Steelers-Ravens and Jets-Dolphins games in Week 9.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens – Nov. 6, 1:00 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: Do you think the Steelers should push Ben Roethlisberger to return, or can they win behind Landry Jones for a few more games?
Ian Eagle: The AFC North is wide open, and this is a significant game for both teams. If Ben Roethlisberger wants to play… he has shown the ability to bounce back quickly over the course of his career. If the Steelers see what is required in practice, there is no doubt in my mind that he will be a go.
This is a very different team with Ben under center.
CBS Local Sports: What has been the primary cause for the Baltimore Ravens’ four-game losing streak?
Eagle: Injuries, simply put. They have been down so many premiere players on their roster over the last month, and it has caught up to them. There have been a lot of close games, and recently they have not found ways to win. The bye week helps them immeasurably, and they should have a full complement of stars ready to go on Sunday. That changes their team.
It’s a big jump for them when Steve Smith lines up as a weapon for Joe Flacco, when Terrell Suggs is chasing the quarterback and C.J. Mosley is patrolling the middle of the field.
The offensive line… that is a legitimate cause and effect for Flacco’s lack of production due to not having the right players up front to protect him.
CBS Local Sports: Is Le’Veon Bell a key to the future success of the Steelers?
Eagle: He is the whole package — power, vision, agility. Pittsburgh probably leans on him sometimes more than they would like to, but he’s a workhorse. Ultimately, Mike Tomlin is going to go with the hot hand, and Bell is a huge key to their success. …They lost Martavis Bryant to suspension for a season, [so] Bell will end up as a receiver. He’s very effective in that role, too.
He’s extremely significant to their future success.
New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins – Nov. 6, 1:00 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: Many are saying the Dolphins are better than their 3-4 record shows. Do you agree?
Eagle: I have seen a young head coach with a willingness to adjust. That, to me, has been a pivotal reason why they are starting to show what they’re capable of and their true identity is starting to take form. Everyone thought they would be a pass-first team, but they have turned into a run-first team with the tremendous production of Jay Ajayi.
Adam Gase has done another big thing, and that is reducing the number of turnovers and mistakes by quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
CBS Local Sports: Do the Jets have the answer to their quarterback problems on the roster right now?
Eagle: It’s too early to tell, but Bryce Petty suffering an injury early did cost him. He may have been in the lineup due to the issues the Jets had with turning the football over. Christian Hackenberg is a second-round pick, but he’s still pretty raw as a pro prospect.
It’s surely obvious that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not in this for the long haul with the Jets. Geno Smith has thrown his last pass for the Jets. It remains to be seen if Petty or Hackenberg will be seen this season, but something has to change.
Danny Cox has been covering the NFL for the past decade and has been watching it for two more. From injury reports to playoff races, he follows every single team and longs for the months of July to February.