The AFC North division title looks to be in reach for only two out of the four teams in the division: The Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Baltimore Ravens have had a complete disaster of a season mainly due to the injuries they have sustained across the roster. The Cleveland Browns are in rebuilding mode unfortunately for them for the 17th straight season with their high profile quarterback not being able to stay out of trouble.
Let's check the status of all four teams in the AFC North:
The Bengals lead the division with an 8-2 record but have lost their last two games in opposite ways after starting the season 8-0 and looking like the arguably the best team in the NFL. The Bengals lost at home to a surging Houston Texans team 10-6 where the Bengals offense missed opportunity after opportunity. Then, they follow it up and lose on the road to a very good Arizona Cardinals team 34-31. The Bengals defense didn't show up in that game.
However, the good news for the Bengals is the fact that they are 3-0 against AFC North opponents including a crucial 16-10 victory on the road against the Steelers. Now the Steelers have the tough task of going to Cincinnati to try and split the season series.
Regardless of how things turn out, the Bengals are going to make the playoffs and nobody in the media is going to care about what the Bengals do in the regular season. The Bengals are going to have to show up in the playoffs and win their first playoff game as a franchise in 25 years.
The defending AFC North division champions are currently 6-4 only two games out of first place in the division. The Steelers have a decent schedule ahead of them that isn't too hard but at the same time not easy. This team has dealt with injuries all year especially on offense from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell, and center Maurkice Pouncey dealing with serious injuries.
Bell and Pouncey are out of the season and Roethlisberger is left standing with pro bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown to the lead the Steelers into the postseason. Here are the Steelers' final six games:
- Week 12 Steelers @ Seattle Seahawks
- Week 13 Indianapolis Colts @ Steelers
- Week 14 Steelers @ Bengals
- Week 15 Denver Broncos @Steelers
- Week 16 Steelers @ Ravens
- Week 17 Steelers @ Browns
Not easy especially given the fact that the last time the Steelers went on the road to play the Ravens and the Browns they lost both games. However, this Steelers team is in great position for an AFC Wild Card spot as they currently hold the fifth seed. Given the fact that the Steelers are one of five AFC teams right now with a winning record, they shouldn't have too many problems clinching a playoff birth.
Where to begin with this disaster of a season. The injury bug hit the Ravens on the first day of training camp with rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman hurting his knee on July 30th and the injury bug has never left the Ravens since then. It is completely amazing how many injuries the Ravens have. You would have thought that the Ravens had a player on the front cover of Madden 16.
Here are the key contributors for the Ravens currently on injured reserve:
- Quarterback Joe Flacco (Torn ACL, MCL)
- Running back Justin Forsett (Broken Arm)
- Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (Torn Achilles)
- Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (PCL Sprain)
- Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (Herniated Disk)
- Tight end Dennis Pitta (Hip)
- Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (Torn Achilles)
- strong safety Matt Elam (Torn Biceps)
- Cornerback Will Davis (Torn ACL)
That doesn't include the Ravens offensive line from the center to the left tackle position all being injured at the moment as well. Left tackle Eugene Monroe is dealing with a shoulder injury, left guard Kelechi Osemele is dealing with a knee injury and center Jeremy Zuttah is dealing with a shoulder injury of his own. The Ravens can't do much but ride out the season and see what they have with their young players.
The injuries for the Ravens won't stop them from playing hard despite their 3-7 record. The Ravens are the first team in NFL history to have their first-ten games of the season be decided by eight points or less.
The Browns are a never ending story of all things that doesn't have anything to do with football. The Browns don't have one of the most talented wide receivers in the game in Josh Gordon available during the 2015 season because of his inability to get rid of the weed.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel can't stay away from the police whether it is dealing with a heckler or an incident with his girlfriend. Not to mention the parties. The parties did Manziel in this time as Browns head coach Mike Pettine has demoted Manziel to be a third string quarterback after a video surfaced where Manziel was caught being in a place where he wasn't supposed to be. Now not only is Manziel's roster spot on the Browns in Jeopardy, his career is Jeopardy as well.
The problem with the Browns is guidance. They don't have enough pieces in place to stabilize the team over the course of a season. Pettine in my opinion is a good coach. But he can't oversee everything that goes on in the organization. It takes a total team effort. From the practice squad player all the way to the owner.
As they sit with a 2-8 record, all the Browns can do right now is do their best to take players off of their roster who are not committed to winning. A culture change is needed for good.
The Bengals look to be the best team down the stretch mainly because they are healthy. If the Steelers were healthy at this point, the Bengals current two game slide might have been the least of their worries. But the Bengals are good for now with the Steelers likely to finish second in the AFC North.
The Ravens and the Browns have things to settle out between themselves in terms of the NFL draft order for next season. The showdown between the Ravens and the Browns in week 12 might have a situation where the loser of that game is actually a winner when the draft order is set at the end of the season.