By Jeremy Hritz
One week after a win against a listless Buffalo Bills team, the Pittsburgh Steelers are somehow still in a (precarious) position to win the AFC North crown, yet to maintain that position would require perfection, or near perfection, in the final seven contests as they still have the bulk of their divisional schedule to play.
Realistically, the Cincinnati Bengals are still positioned best despite their 1-2 divisional record, currently sitting at 6-4 with their bye week on the horizon; however, the Cleveland Browns, who boast the best divisional record at 2-1, are back in the conversation after knocking off two consecutive wins. To get a better idea of what is left for the AFC North, it helps to take a look at each team’s remaining schedule (teams with winning records in italics):
|Vs. Lions||@ Bears||@ Bengals||Vs. Browns|
|@ Browns||Vs. Jets||Vs. Steelers||BYE|
|@ Ravens||Vs. Steelers||Vs. Jaguars||@ Chargers|
|Vs. Dolphins||Vs. Vikings||@ Patriots||Vs. Colts|
|Vs. Bengals||@ Lions||Vs. Bears||@ Steelers|
|@ Packers||Vs. Patriots||@ Jets||Vs. Vikings|
|Vs. Browns||@ Bengals||@ Steelers||Vs. Ravens|
Across the board in the division, the remaining schedules are very comparable in regards to the strength of opponents, yet the advantage may go to the Bengals as they only play two more contests away and will enjoy their bye next week. Additionally, the Bengals only play one more contest against a winning opponent, the Colts, a game that is at home. In consideration of their success in Cincinnati, they could be poised to close out the season on top.
The Steelers and Baltimore Ravens play three more away games and will have four to go at home, while the Browns have to go on the road four more times, including twice at the end of the season, concluding 2013 at Heinz Field. The Steelers have three remaining contests against teams with winning records, while the Ravens have five and the Browns have four.
Could the Steelers win out or go 6-1 in their final seven contests? Sure. But have they demonstrated anything to make you believe that they can do that in the second half of the season? No. While stranger things have happened in the NFL, if things don’t change and if the second half of the schedule in the AFC North plays out as it did in the first half, the Bengals will be the North champion and will be enjoying at least one playoff game at home.
Let’s bring it back to week eleven.
To start sorting these things out, let’s take a look at the games that are on schedule for this week, starting with the Browns at the Bengals.
In the first matchup between these two teams in Cleveland, the Browns won 17-6 as a result of Brian Hoyer’s two touchdown passes. Hoyer, now out for the season, has been replaced by Jason Campbell who has played well as the starter.
Hoyer’s performance aside in the first contest, it is was the Browns defense that held the Bengals to two field goals and jammed up Andy Dalton and rendered him ineffective. The Bengals only converted 28% of their third downs in that game, and if they are to win in the rematch, they will need more out of their offense. The concern for the Bengals is that they have been inconsistent and sloppy on offense over the last two weeks, and if such chaos continues, the Browns could move to 3-1 in the North. This is a meaningful game for both Browns and Bengals fans, and it could be a factor in determining the division champ.
The Ravens travel to Chicago to take on the Bears at 1:00 PM, a game that Jay Cutler will miss and that could give an advantage to Baltimore. Cutler’s replacement, Josh McCown, will get the start, and that may not be a bad thing because in the games that he has started as a result of Cutler’s injury, he has compiled a passer rating of 103.2, thrown for five touchdowns, and completed 60% of his passes.
The Ravens, like the Steelers, have been inconsistent all season, lacking an effective running game and surrendering too much pressure on Joe Flacco. Despite those deficiencies, Baltimore has talented players, especially on defense, and could very well win this game in Chicago, but their unevenness will make this a close contest that the Bears should squeak out.
The AFC North playoff picture should get clearer after today, and with every week hereafter, each game will take on a greater significance. In order for the remaining Steelers games to be significant, they must get the win today against Detroit.
|2013 AFC North Standings||Week 11 Schedule||Week 12 Schedule|
|Bengals: 6-4, 1-2 Division||Browns @ Bengals, 1:00 PM||Bye Week: Bengals|
|Browns: 4-5, 2-1 Division||Browns @ Bengals, 1:00 PM||Steelers @ Browns, 1:00 PM|
|Ravens: 4-5, 2-2 Division||Ravens @ Bears, 1:00 PM||Jets @ Ravens, 1:00 PM|
|Steelers: 3-6, 1-1 Division||Lions @ Steelers, 1:00 PM||Steelers @ Browns, 1:00 PM|
|AFC North Statistical Leaders|
|Leading Passer (yardage)||Andy Dalton, Bengals – 239/383, 2861 yards, 18 touchdowns, 13interceptions (3rd in the NFL)|
|Leading Rusher (yardage)||BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals – 140 carries, 460 yards, 3 touchdowns (21st in the NFL)|
|Leading Receiver (yardage)||A.J. Green, Bengals – 65 catches, 1013 yards, 6 touchdown (1st in the NFL)|
|Sack Leader||Terrell Suggs, Ravens – 9 sacks (5th in the NFL)|
|Interception Leader||Several tied with 2|
|Top Offense||Cincinnati Bengals – 378.6 yards per game (8th in the NFL)|
|Top Defense||Cincinnati Bengals – 311.4 yards per game (4th in the NFL)|