The Battle for #2 in Baltimore: The State of the AFC North – Week Thirteen

By Jeremy Hritz

Week 13 of the NFL season is here, and Americans everywhere are ready to assault their stomachs with an arsenal of turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and let’s not forget, three football games spaced out nicely to make for one hell of a holiday.

For Pittsburgh Steelers fans and for fans of the AFC North, Thanksgiving 2013 takes on a completely new meaning as Pittsburgh travels to Baltimore in a divisional contest that will have a strong influence over which team continues to realistically pursue a Wild Card berth, while the other makes the road to the January tournament that much more difficult.

Matchups between the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens have always taken on an intensity not found in many other NFL rivalries, and this imminent contest is no different; in fact, it is probably the most meaningful game the teams have played since the 2011 season in Pittsburgh when the Steelers were heartbroken by a Joe Flacco pass to Torrey Smith to end the game. That win put the Ravens in the driver’s seat to win the AFC North while the Steelers, while still finishing 12-4, were relegated to second place in the division and were forced to play the unforgettable-forgettable game against the pre-Peyton Manning Broncos in Denver.

Much has changed since that time, including a Flacco Super Bowl MVP and several faces on the Steelers roster, but this much hasn’t: this Thanksgiving Night contest promises to be as meaningful and as memorable as any contest between these two rivals.

The Bengals return to play this week, traveling to the West Coast to play the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers are coming off of a meaningful win against the Kansas City Chiefs 41-38, a game that Philip Rivers threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns. The Chargers put up nearly 500 yards of offense and should prove to be a challenge for the Cincinnati Bengals defense. Defensively, however, the Chargers could not slow down Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense, and you would have to think that if Andy Dalton can put together a semi-clean game, the Bengals should be able to squeeze out the victory. If they do, they help the Steelers in their pursuit of a Wild Card; conversely, if the Chargers win, they provide a glimmer of hope for the Steelers in the chase for the AFC North title.

But that’s not going to happen… right?

The playoff chances for the Cleveland Browns, while not mathematically impossible, ran square into a cement wall with their loss to the Steelers this weekend. The Browns have proven they are strong defensively yet lacking a quarterback, but they could still win some games to close out this season. They should pull out the victory this weekend against the Jacksonville Jaguars at home and snap their two-game losing streak as long as Brandon Weedon doesn’t play too much like Brandon Weedon.

At the end of week 13, Cincinnati will still reign at the top, and may be doing so tenuously depending on the outcome of their contest, but there will be a team locked firmly into second place and on the precipice of snatching a Wild Card.

And quite possibly, that team could be in the running to make a late season push for a division crown.

Will that team be the Steelers?

2013 AFC North StandingsWeek 13 GamesWeek 14 Games
1. Bengals: 7-4 overall, 2-2 divisionBengals @ Chargers, 4:25 PMColts @ Bengals, 1:00 PM
2. Steelers: 5-6 overall, 2-1 divisionSteelers @ Ravens (Thurs.), 8:30 PMDolphins @ Steelers, 1:00 PM
3. Ravens: 5-6 overall, 2-2 divisionSteelers @ Ravens (Thurs.), 8:30 PMVikings @ Ravens, 1:00 PM
4. Browns: 4-7 overall, 2-3 divisionJaguars @ Browns, 1:00 PMBrowns @ Patriots, 1:00 PM
AFC North Statistical Leaders
Leading Passer (Yardage)Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers – 6th in the NFL – 269/417, 3118 yards – 19 TDs, 10 Ints.
Leading Rusher (Yardage)BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals – 22nd in the NFL – 156 carries, 522 yards – 3 TDs
Leading receiver (Yardage)Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers – 2nd in the NFL – 80 catches, 1044 yards – 6 TDs
Sack LeaderElvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens – Tied for 7th ithe NFL – 9.5 sacks
Interception LeaderMultiple players tied with 3
Top OffenseCincinnati Bengals – 10th in the NFL – 364.5 yards per game
Top DefenseCleveland Browns – 4th in the NFL – 306.1 yards per game
2013 AFC North Remaining Schedules
STEELERSRAVENSBROWNSBENGALS
@ RavensVs. SteelersVs. Jaguars@ Chargers
Vs. DolphinsVs. Vikings@ PatriotsVs. Colts
Vs. Bengals@ LionsVs. Bears@ Steelers
@ PackersVs. Patriots@ JetsVs. Vikings
Vs. Browns@ Bengals@ SteelersVs. Ravens