Ravens and Steelers have massive AFC North implcations

Justin K. Aller

We take a look at how Thursday night's game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers could have in the AFC North race.

As we take time out of our busy year to say thanks with our family and friends, the Baltimore Ravens will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that could set the stage for the race to claim the AFC North. Currently the Cincinnati Bengals have the fourth seed and a two-game lead over the Ravens and Steelers as division leaders. Cincinnati can obviously neutralize this discussion by winning out, or winning four of their next five (three depending on whom they beat). But we have to anticipate every projection.

Simply put, the team that wins tonight will reduce Cincinnati's lead to 1.5 games. The loser will fall 2.5 games behind. If Cincinnati responds with their own victory over the San Diego Chargers, they'll maintain their two-game lead over tonight's winner whereas the loser will fall three games back with four games remaining.

Essentially, Thursday Night's game will become an elimination game -- though not technically, time is clearly running out.

The question is, who do you want winning Thursday night? First, let's look at the remaining schedule after this weekend.

BENGALS RAVENS STEELERS
Week 13 at San Diego Chargers Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Week 14 Indianapolis Colts Minnesota Vikings Miami Dolphins
Week 15 at Pittsburgh Steelers at Detroit Lions Cincinnati Bengals
Week 16 Minnesota Vikings New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers
Week 17 Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Cleveland Browns
STRENGTH OF SCHED: .445 STRENGTH OF SCHED: .518 STRENGTH OF SCHED: .482

My thinking.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are generating momentum and building confidence during their three-game winning streak. If the Ravens wipe out the Steelers Thursday night, Pittsburgh won't be eliminated but they have a ton of ground to make up in a short amount of time. It also neutralizes Pittsburgh remaining schedule, which will be the easiest between tonight's teams -- especially playing three of the final four games at home.

That being said, the Ravens still have games against three teams with a winning record. Beat Pittsburgh and then face their own gauntlet of winning teams to force their own elimination.

Someone will fall tonight.

The caveat? Cincinnati has to win. They have to handle their own business this weekend in San Diego and next week against the Indianapolis Colts while watching the AFC North essentially eliminate themselves. Pittsburgh did that to Cleveland last week, with an opportunity for the Browns to respond in the regular season finale.

My Pick: The Ravens... eliminate the Steelers and then face the Lions, Patriots and Bengals in the final three weeks.

Who do you have?

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