When the 2009 schedules were released, the AFC North caught a break by matching up against the weak AFC West and mediocre NFC North. In fact, the Steelers' schedule was rated the 4th easiest in the NFL, the Ravens' schedule was 5th easiest, and the Bengals' was 11th (mainly because they had to play the Ravens and Steelers twice each). These ratings were based on opponents' 2008 winning percentages.
At nearly the midpoint of the 2009 season, things are not looking so easy, due to the improvement of teams such as the Vikings, Packers, Broncos, and the Bengals themselves. Let's take a look at how the schedules are rated now, based on 2009 opponent winning percentage (opp pct), and more important, which AFC North team has the most favorable schedule remaining.
The Ravens' schedule has become much more difficult at 0.550. In addition to the aforementioned teams, the Ravens must play the undefeated Colts and have already lost to the Patriots. Having completed the brutal (0.571) portion of their schedule, the Ravens now face the merely difficult (0.534) portion, which includes the Colts, the Bengals, two games against the Steelers, and a road game against the 4-3 Packers. So far, the Ravens are 2-3 against tough opponents; if they continue at the same pace, they could finish 10-6.
The Steelers' opponents had a 0.434 winning percentage in 2008, but so far in 2009, they have a 0.461 percentage. Despite having 12 opponents in common with the Ravens, the Steelers' schedule is softened by the collapse of the Titans and, to a lesser extent, the Dolphins. So far this season, the Steelers are 3-0 against lousy teams and 2-2 against teams with a winning record, both losses coming on the road. If the Steelers maintain this pattern, they will finish 12-4 or 11-5.
The Bengals schedule, originally rated the toughest of the three, now appears easier than the Ravens' schedule at 0.495. At 0.576, the Bengals have faced a crushing schedule to date, with six of seven games against opponents with winning records. Impressively, the Bengals have compiled a 4-2 record in those six games. Their schedule gets considerably easier at 0.432, with only four opponents having winning records, although three of those games are on the road. Even so, if the Bengals continue at this pace, they could easily finish at 12-4.
|Games To Date||0.449||0.571||0.576|
As this summary chart shows, all three teams face considerably more difficult schedules than originally thought, but the Ravens clearly have the most difficult schedule overall and the most difficult remaining schedule. The Steelers still have a relatively easy schedule, but the Bengals have the advantage of being 5-2 with the easiest remaining schedule.
P.S. Yes, I'm a Steelers fan visiting your site. I'm not saying which team is better or even which will win the division. I am just presenting data and saying what will happen if the teams continue at their current pace. Based on the above analysis, I wish the Ravens good luck Sunday against the Bengals.