The AFC North division race has been between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals for much of the season. In this two-horse race, the Ravens possess the advantage of a ‘softer schedule,’ which has been repeated ad nauseum.
It’s true, though. The Ravens placed fourth in the AFC North last season and as a result were matched with opponents who also placed fourth. Those teams being the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants, who are a combined 14-19. Compare that with the Bengals who won the division and were matched with the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys, who combine for a 24-9 record.
The Ravens have not taken advantage of these differences, sinking to 0-2 with losses to the Giants and Jaguars. They hope to notch one win among the three as they face the Broncos in Week 13.
Meanwhile, the Bengals are 1-1 against their first-place opponents, losing to the Cowboys in Week 2 before defeating the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, 20-16. If they defeat the Chiefs this week, they’ll be 2-1 in such games. If not, they’ll be 1-2, where they’ll either draw or defeat the Ravens depending upon their outcome.
The Ravens’ losses to the Giants and Jaguars kept the Bengals in the divisional race the same way the Ravens let those two teams hang around and ultimately defeat them. Had they notched these wins, they’d be heading into the final stretch with breathing room. Now, they’re tied and nearing the fourth quarter of the season.
If they don’t create separation from the Bengals in the next handful of games, they may find themselves on a date in Cincinnati against quarterback Joe Burrow with their post-season ambitions on the line.