On Friday I was watching the NFL network talking about the upcoming slate of games for the weekend. I am not sure if I was really interested in the talk around the Sunday match-ups, or the masochist in me wanted to hear them pile on the Cincinnati Bengals. Probably a little of both.
One segment that caught my attention was which team would win the AFC North. Of course I was disappointed due to the lack of knowledge the experts have of teams outside of the main stream; it's always evident. However, this involved the fans. Here, are the results from a Twitter poll asking who would win the AFC North:
This division is a four team race for contenders to take it. Only a half game separates the Browns from the last place Ravens. All four teams are among the top eight of the AFC.
The Bengals have the toughest schedule to finish the season. Their remaining opponents win loss record is 34-31. The Steelers face a combined record of 25-27-2. The Ravens face 25-30. The Browns 32-30-2.
Early in the pre-season, Adam Schein of NFL.com predicted the Bengals would finish second in the division behind the Ravens. His explanation was:
Frankly, I believe just about everything mentioned above to some extent. But given Dalton and Marvin Lewis' spotty track record in big moments, I don't see Cincy taking the next step and becoming a Super Bowl team -- or even a true Super Bowl contender, for that matter. I think this team is too talented to flop, but I envision the Bengals winning nine or 10 games and finishing behind the Ravens in the division race.
Spot on with the evaluation of Marvin and Dalton in big moments.
Being fresh off the embarrassment of last Thursday night, the knee jerk reaction is to claim the Bengals are done and that they no longer have a shot in this division. Based on the last game, I could entertain those arguments. However, we have seen every team in this division get dismantled at some point during this season.
Pittsburgh's loss to the Jets was bad. It was not as bad as their loss to the Browns earlier this season, 31 - 10. Baltimore not only lost twice to the Bengals, they were manhandled by the Steelers a week ago. The Browns are the sole bright spot for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season, losing on the road 24 - 6.
So how does this shake out? The home in me wants to tell you how the Bengals put it together starting this weekend against the Saints. They go on the road and take down Drew Brees and Sean Payton in the house in which they very rarely falter. Honestly, I think it happens. I do think the Bengals take down the Saints this weekend on the road. I don't think that alone is enough for them to take the division.
Forget wildcards, this is the division title we are talking about. Currently, the Cleveland Browns are in the drivers' seat. I am positive this will not last. The Browns are like your eight-year-old kid. They like to sit on your lap and steer, and may even back the car out of the driveway on their own sometimes. But once on the road, it doesn't end well. Much like Cleveland "driving" this division. The Browns are the cruel joke to the city of Cleveland and they always deliver.
Next, it looks like the Ravens could be the top team in the division based on the way they played for a week. AKA, they didn't lose to a team they had no business losing to on Sunday. The question with them is can they win in the division? Of their five tries they have only won two games. They need to sweep the Browns just to go .500 in the division. This will come in the final game of the season, where the Browns will probably once again be playing for pride.
The Steelers biggest obstacle to making a splash in the division is the Bengals. The rest of their schedule is pretty soft. Last week you could have argued that Ben Roethlisberger was making strides and playing at an insane level. Then the J E T S make the Steelers look like a team on the back end of an all nighter. The Steelers team that played Sunday is not a threat to make any waves from the basement of the north.
It is a strange season throughout the NFL. So week-to-week things change. Go ahead, be down on the Bengals, but don't carry that load into the next game, where the season and outlook could change off the right arm of the red headed Bengals pitcher. The Bengals are still in the hunt and that is a good thing. Let's hope there is still some fight left in that cat.