Division race brewing in AFC North

With the Bengals' loss on Thursday, the Ravens-Browns matchup Sunday suddenly has high stakes.

The Ravens are angry. The Browns are hungry to shed the label of "little brother," coach Rob Chudzinski said this week.

Especially with the Bengals having given away a game Thursday night in Miami, Sunday's game in Cleveland qualifies as big.

The 3-4 Ravens are off a bye week and have lost three of four. The 3-5 Browns have lost three straight and haven't beaten the Ravens since 2007; that's a perfect 11-0 for coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco against the ever-changing Browns.

The margin is slim. The Ravens have lost those three of their last four by a total of eight points. The Bengals losing in overtime on a safety in Miami cost them a shot at 7-2. Instead, they're 6-3 and are at Baltimore next week.

So, the winner of Ravens-Browns Sunday in Cleveland is very much in the AFC North race. And we've reached the point where the division race -- if there's going to be one -- will become clear through head-to-head matchups.

The Browns are on bye next weekend, then at Cincinnati (Nov. 17) and home vs. Pittsburgh (Nov. 24). The Steelers are 2-5 after losing at Oakland last week and are at New England this week. The Ravens host the Steelers on Thanksgiving night, four days after the Steelers play in Cleveland.

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone, and their Week One, nationally-televised beatdown in Denver didn't go how anyone with the Ravens planned.

But they're still playing very good defense in Baltimore.

The Ravens defense has only allowed five touchdowns in the six games since that opener and is giving up an average of 16.5 points since Week Two, third-best in the NFL. The Ravens have 25 sacks on the season, tied for fifth most in the NFL, and going back to last season have at least two sacks in 15 straight games.

Terrell Suggs leads the way with eight sacks, sixth most in the NFL.

MORE NUMBERS: The Steelers have the league's second-best pass defense to this point at an average of 181 yards per game, but that's more a reflection of their uncharacteristic struggles against the run and playing from behind in most of their games. The Steelers are giving up 122 yards per game on the ground.

The Browns, Ravens and Bengals all rank in the top third in run defense and are within a yard of one another at this point. The Browns are allowing 103.6 rushing yards per game, the Bengals 103.9 and the Ravens 104.3.

The Browns are tied for third in the NFL with 27 sacks.

ON THE LINE: Not only is the Ravens 11-game win streak on the line Sunday in Cleveland, but Harbaugh is 5-0 off a bye week since taking over as Ravens coach.

Bengals running back Gio Bernard made all the highlight shows with his jaw-dropping 35-yard touchdown run in Miami on Thursday night.

Bernard continues to lead all NFL rookies with 628 all-purpose yards, 361 rushing and 267 receiving. He has four touchdown runs and two touchdown receptions.

Bernard left the Dolphins game with a rib injury, but Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he expects Bernard to be fine. The Bengals will have a tough time recovering from the loss of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who suffered a torn ACL in the game.

Atkins had six sacks on the season.

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