Given the hype and post game praise of the bi-annual Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers slugfest on Thanksgiving night, one would have thought that it was those two squads battling for first place in the AFC north. But no, it's the Cincinnati Bengals who have sole possession of first place in the division and remain in that position even with Baltimore gaining ground in the playoff picture.
Earlier on Friday, Josh Kirkendall broke down the implications for the division, but there is more than meets the eye with the game's result--particularly for the idle Bengals. And, when digging into the numbers, the Ravens pulling out the win helps Cincinnati out on a few different fronts.
Where The Bengals Play The Steelers And Ravens In The Games Ahead:
In what could determine not only the division crown, but also a potential Wild Card spot for either Pittsburgh or Baltimore, the Bengals play both teams over the next five weeks. Here's the thing though, the Bengals travel to Pittsburgh in two weeks, but they host Baltimore in the final week.
Aside from Marvin Lewis having a better record against the Ravens than the Steelers, the Bengals also have a 5-0 record at home this season. It has to be better to potentially have to have a win at home against a team that you've traditionally had better success against, no?
The Difference In Division Records Between Ravens And Steelers:
Before Baltimore beat Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night, the Steelers had a better in-division record. The Ravens were 2-2 in the division, while the Steelers were 2-1. If the Steelers came through and sat at 3-1 when the Bengals met them in a couple of weeks, a Cincinnati loss there could have been crucial if things came down to tiebreakers.
The Bengals are 2-2 in the division, now tied with Pittsburgh. Because of this and the Steelers' now 5-7 record, a Bengals loss in Pittsburgh means less than the home game against the Ravens in the season finale.
The Bengals' Record Against Steelers And Ravens At Upcoming Venues:
Though the Bengals have struggled more against the Steelers, they have maintained a 5-5 record in games played at Heinz Field. That's no easy task when you're going up against Ben Roethlisberger and two good head coaches in Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher. Even with playing .500 ball on the road against the Black and Yellow, it's difficult to have to make sure you have to win that game instead of one at home.
Conversely, the Bengals are 7-3 when hosting the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium under Lewis. Though many of the cast members have changed over the years, that record still should still hold weight. The one caveat? Two of those three losses in the Lewis era have come in the Andy Dalton era, so that has to be considered as well.
The Remaining Schedules Of The Steelers And The Ravens:
Neither team has it truly easy the rest of the way, but the Steelers have the easier schedule. Though they play the Bengals on December 15th, Pittsburgh plays an inconsistent Dolphins team, a limping Packers team that has been without Aaron Rodgers for the past month, and a Browns team that has begun to falter at the end of the year. So, adding another loss from the division helps in the event that the Steelers are able to pull off a string of late-season wins.
On the other hand, the Ravens have a bit of a tougher go of it. Aside from that season-ending showdown with Cincinnati, they still play the Vikings, Lions and Patriots. There could be more losses in there for the Ravens than could be ahead for the Steelers, given their respective schedules.
Bengals Success Versus Common Opponents:
Some huge early-season wins could pay dividends for the Bengals at the end of the year. The wins against the Packers, Lions, and Patriots early on could help immensely--particularly since both the Ravens and Steelers play some of those teams the rest of the way. The Steelers beat the Lions, but lost to the Patriots. They also lost to the the Bears and the Vikings.
The Ravens have some accrued losses that could play in the favor of the Bengals. Baltimore's losses have been at the hands of the Bills, Packers and Bears. With possible losses looming against Detroit and/or New England, this could be more beneficial to the Bengals if records are tied and a playoff spot is at stake.