Why we want the Steelers to win.
A Bengals win over the Steelers on Dec. 15 forces Pittsburgh amass more wins than Cincinnati. If both teams finish with an identical record, the Bengals win the AFC North. So Pittsburgh needs to generate an additional win somewhere.
Cleveland, on the other hand, isn't forced into that scenario because Cincinnati and Cleveland split the season series. The next tiebreaker would be the best division record and the Bengals and Browns are each 2-2 against AFC North teams. Cincinnati has one game remaining against the Steelers and Ravens whereas the Browns have two against Pittsburgh, including this Sunday. A Pittsburgh over the Browns drops Cleveland's division record to 2-3.
The truth of the matter is, two things happen if the Steelers beat the Browns. Cleveland's chances are virtually crushed and the Steelers and Bengals could have implications that it might become your proverbial elimination game. Of course the Bengals have to stumble and we're not favorable of that anyway.
If the Bengals keep winning games and maintain their two-game lead, then there's need worry about the Steelers -- the meaning of controlling your own destiny.
We want the Steelers to win because it virtually eliminates Cleveland, who makes tiebreakers against Cincinnati very difficult.
Why we want the Browns to win.
Despite Cleveland having a better opportunity to challenge for the AFC North, the Steelers are the Steelers and we're being told that they're playing better football right now (they were blown out by the Patriots in week 9 and then won games against the Bills and Lions...s.c.a.r.y).
Yet, recall 2005 when the Bengals had control of the division. Pittsburgh made a late run, winning four straight in the regular season to enter the postseason as a wild card. That's all they needed, as they won four postseason games to become Super Bowl Champions.
In other words, if Cleveland has a clearer opportunity to make it the AFC North competitive, Pittsburgh has the history and mental tenacity to actually do it. Plus, they've been a streaky team this year -- two two-game winning streaks and two losing streaks of four and two respectively.
Also, the remainder of Cleveland's schedule has opponents vying for postseason berths. In five of their final six games, they face the Steelers twice (week 12, week 17), the England Patriots (week 14), Chicago Bears (week 15), and New York Jets (week 16) -- they also play the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 13. Even if the Browns beat the Steelers, they're schedule remains tough enough to make their run improbable.
We want the Browns to win, largely because the remainder of their schedule will beat them up. And it virtually eliminates the Steelers. We're all for that.
Why we want the New York Jets to win.
If, and we're just covering scenarios here, the Bengals are knocked out of the AFC North title, they'll be reduced into a wild card fight. Having already beaten the Jets earlier this year, Cincinnati will own the head-to-head tiebreaker against New York.
The reality here is that we just want the Jets to knock the Ravens out. That's it.
The Baltimore Ravens are just... there. And conditions are actually favorable for a late-season surge.
Of their final six regular season games, including Sunday's contest against the Jets, the Ravens play four at home -- including a three-game stretch in Baltimore this weekend (Jets), during Thanksgiving against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the following Sunday against Minnesota. The Ravens have won 17 of their previous 20 homes games and quarterback Joe Flacco is 18-7 as a starting quarterback in November.
New York isn't an easy victory. New York is 4-0 after a loss this season and they were smoked by the Buffalo Bills last week. But Baltimore's biggest struggles this year haven't really been against inferior teams. They lost to the Browns and Steelers recently, but relatively speaking, those three teams are similar.
They only lost by two points to Green Bay (with Aaron Rodgers) earlier this season and in overtime to the Chicago Bears last week in a weather-related delay (and awful field). Their week four loss to the Bills is probably their biggest blemish, even when we're including the week one blowout against the Denver Broncos.
Baltimore's final three games will play the Ravens in Detroit on Monday Night Football with the Patriots and Bengals concluding their regular season schedule.
Why want the Baltimore Ravens to win.
We don't. For any reason. Case closed.
Of the AFC North teams, Pittsburgh is the most likely to go on a run. A Cleveland win forces Pittsburgh to stumble heading into the final five games against the Ravens, Dolphins, Bengals, Packers and Browns (again).
Cleveland has a slight advantage in tiebreakers against the Bengals if they go on a run starting with a win this weekend, having already wiped out the head-to-head tiebreaker and taking a percentage lead in the division tiebreaker if they're victorious on Sunday.
Yet Cleveland has only beaten one team with a winning record (Bengals) this year and the final five games feature only two games against teams sporting a losing record (and one of those teams is Pittsburgh in the regular season finale). You want Cleveland to win, hurting Pittsburgh, while hitting a gauntlet of a schedule as the regular season winds down. To me, that would be the perfect result.
And while the Browns and Steelers take center stage in terms of division interest this weekend, the Ravens are a shadow in the background. They're just... there.
In the end, all that matters is taking care of your own business. If the Bengals win the games on their schedule, it doesn't matter what the rest of the division does.