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With Ravens in second place, the chase to catch the Bengals begins

The Ravens have nine games left in their regular season to catch the first-place Bengals in the AFC North.

Chasing the Bengals, the AFC North leaders, begins this week against Cleveland for the Ravens.
Chasing the Bengals, the AFC North leaders, begins this week against Cleveland for the Ravens.
Andy Lyons

The Bengals have been able to open up a decent lead in the AFC North as they sit at 6-2.

The Ravens are alone in second place at 3-4, with the other two AFC North teams under .500 as well. This week's game against Cleveland will be important in that regard as the Browns are 3-5 and looking to claw back in the division race too.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh realizes the importance defeating the Browns this week with the way the Bengals have been able to play.

"Every one of these games is critical," Harbaugh told reporters Monday. "I don't care if it's division, not division, they're all linchpin games as far as I'm concerned. Every time we play a game — in my mind — is make or break as we go into it. When the season is over, that will be determined, which games were and which games weren't."

Now, it's not like the Bengals are an unbeatable force all of a sudden. While they're on a four-game winning streak, the first three wins were decided by one possession, with two reaching overtime. This past Sunday's game against the Jets was a different story, one of those moments where one team plays as close to a perfect game as possible.

The only issue for the AFC North race is that Cincinnati's remaining schedule isn't that tough. This week's game is against a reeling Miami team. After Week 10's meeting between Cincinnati and Baltimore, the Bengals' toughest two games before the season-finale rematch with the Ravens are against the Chargers (Week 13) and Colts (Week 14).

That means the Ravens need to put together a string of wins, hope the Bengals lose those two games while faltering in another game or two.

All of that ties together with the Ravens rebounding from their loss to Green Bay two weeks ago with a win over Cleveland this Sunday.

"We feel like we've got to go win this game, just like we felt we had to win the last game," Harbaugh said. "We didn't get it done, so we've got to go win this one. We've got to get it done, and at the end we'll see where we stand. So, the race, it is what it is now. It's where it stands. But it's where it stands after 16 games that matters, and that's what we're looking forward to."