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AFC North Standings entering Week 6

A look at the Bengals' AFC North advisories. Where they sit in the standings, how they got there, and where they project to finish.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals sit alone, atop the AFC North, two games up on their closest neighbor, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The last time the Bengals had such a big lead in the division was at the end of the 2013 season, when they finished 11-5, and three games ahead of the 8-8 Ravens and Steelers.

So how have their fellow AFC North opponents done so far this year, and how will they possibly finish?

Baltimore Ravens 1-4

The Bengals have their chant of "Who Dey?", and the 2015 Ravens team should possibly consider adopting the slogan of "What If?"

The Ravens are 1-4, but they are not a "bad" 1-4, if such a thing exists.

They have been hit hard by injuries to starters Terrell Suggs, Matt Elam, and Dennis Pitta all who have been placed on Injured Reserve. The Ravens got a total of one game from the three of them combined.

The Ravens lost three core players to free agency last year (Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, and Owen Daniels), and the draft picks selected to replace them have started very slowly. First round pick, wide receiver Breshad Perriman has been injured all season, and has yet to play a game for the very wide receiver needy Ravens. Second round pick tight end Maxx Williams has recorded a total of 84 receiving yards and zero touchdowns over the first five games of the season. Third round pick defensive tackle Carl Davis has at least played, but has not made anybody confuse him for Ngata.

All four of the Ravens'  losses have been by less than a touchdown, and their average margin of defeat is 4.25 points. They lost by six at Denver, by four at Oakland, by four to Cincinnati, and by three to Cleveland in overtime. In the last three of those games, the Ravens had late leads but let them all slip away.

The Ravens’ schedule has not been an easy one to navigate to start the year, with their first five opponents holding 17-8 records, including the undefeated Bengals and undefeated Broncos.

If there is a chance for Baltimore to redeem their season and fight for a 0.500 record, it is going to be over their next nine games. Over that upcoming stretch, their opponents hold a subpar 16-28 combined record.

Given how close the Ravens have been in each of their defeats, with so many people missing from their roster, and with such an easy slate of games upcoming, it isn’t impossible to imagine the Ravens winning six or seven of their final eleven games, and turning things around enough to finish anywhere from 5-11 to an even 8-8 record by the time the season is over.

Cleveland Browns 2-3

Before the Browns’ season ever started, it was marred with controversy. Josh Gordon was suspended (again), and there were many calling for the Manziel era to end after a brief first season. Some even promoted the idea of "fail for Cardale" in an attempt to lose as many games as possible to ensure a high enough pick to draft Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones.

But things have not started so horribly for the Browns. Both of their quarterbacks, Josh McCown and Manziel are playing very well, and together their offense is averaging over 300 passing yards per game. And they have needed it, as their running backs are only averaging 3.5 yards per carry, and only have one solitary rushing touchdown from the first five games of the season.

Unfortunately, the pass defense has been allowing just about as much as the offense has been producing. The Browns have given up 10 passing touchdowns on the season to only one interception. And on the ground, the Browns are allowing opponents to rush for 5.0 yards per carry, and scored six touchdowns on the ground.

The 2-3 start is a nice story, but things are about to get real for the Browns – real difficult, that is. Their first five opponents own a combined 9-14 record, while their next seven opponents are a combined 25-10. They finish the year with a set of four games that are a little easier, but that brutal stretch about to hit them could be their undoing.

Given the difficulty of what is about to hit the Browns, they could potentially lose six or more, of their next seven games. A 0.500 record is likely not in their future, and they could be in a dogfight with the Ravens for third place in the AFC North. The Browns will likely finish in fourth, but the question is if they will fail enough to draft Cardale?

Pittsburgh Steelers 3-2

After a close loss at New England (a game where the Steelers were without Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey, and Martavis Bryant), the Steelers have won three of their next four games, and only a three point loss to Baltimore has prevented the Steelers from running off four straight wins. And that three point loss was with Michael Vick making his first start at quarterback since he started three games for the New York Jets in the middle of last season.

The Steelers have managed to leap over some early season hurdles and produce a winning record after five weeks. They had to survive a pair of games without Le’Veon Bell, who was suspended. And Bryant, who recorded 8 touchdowns over a 10 game span, is finally returning after serving a suspension of his own. Pouncey is out for the majority of the season, hoping to return by Week 12. And their starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is out, but may be returning soon.

And then there is the Steelers’ kicking situation. They seem to have gone through more kickers in two months than the Bengals have gone through in about a decade. They lost Shaun Suisham to injury early in preseason. They signed Garrett Hartley as a replacement to Suisham, only to lose him to injury. Then they traded for Josh Scobee from the Jaguars, only to release him for poor performance (6 of 10 on field goals), and are currently on kicker number four, Chris Bowell. Only time will tell how long Boswell remains their kicker.

Their defense may not be the "Steel Curtain", but it is doing well against opponent’s running games. After five weeks, they have only allowed one rushing touchdown. Although they are giving up 275 yards per game through the air, and have given up nine passing touchdowns.

Despite all of these setbacks, the Steelers have managed to win three of their last four games. This seems like a good team overcoming obstacles, and winning. But you could just as easily argue that their last four opponents hold a combined 6-14 record, and it’s just a matter of beating up on bad teams.

Based on what they have been able to do, and considering that they get Bryant back this week, Roethlisberger a short time after that, and Pouncey a little after that, it’s pretty reasonable to figure that the Steelers should win at least half of their games going forward. If they finish out 6-5 or 7-3, that would give them a 9-7 or 10-6 record, with second place in the AFC North securely in their grasp, and a good shot at a Wild Card berth.