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AFC North is now Bengals' to lose

The Bengals now have control of the AFC North before they even play the Chiefs this week.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard for any NFL team to have a firm hold of their division going into Week 4.

That's the case with the Cincinnati Bengals. Their 3-0 start combined with a rash of injuries and inconsistent play within the AFC North now has allowed Cincinnati to take grasp of the division. Having a grasp though means little at this point with only three games won, but there's no longer any doubt who the favorite is in this division.

Everyone knew the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to have a tough time keeping pace with the Bengals after losing Ben Roethlisberger for 4-6 weeks. Still, Thursday's game against the Baltimore Ravens was there for the taking, and they let it slip right through their grasp, losing 23-20 in overtime.

Because of that result, the Bengals are guaranteed to be leading the AFC North by at least a full game when Week 4 ends, even if they lose at home to the Kansas City Chiefs. Making matters worse for the Steelers is their next four games are at the San Diego Chargers, vs the Arizona Cardinals, at the Chiefs and vs the Bengals. That's a brutal stretch of games if they don't have Big Ben for any of them, and they could be looking at a 4-4 or even 3-5 record coming out of the stretch.

Once that ends, games against the Denver Broncos, at the Seattle Seahawks, vs Indianapolis Colts, at the Ravens and at the Bengals could mean the most games Pittsburgh is able to win is between 8-9.

Looking at the rest of the Bengals' schedule, there's a decent chance they'll play at Pittsburgh on Nov. 1 with Big Ben still out before hosting them on Dec. 13. Cincinnati should be able to win one of those two games, even if Roethlisberger does play in Week 8.

The Bengals also have three games left against the Ravens and Browns, who are a combined 2-5 this season. There's no reason the Bengals shouldn't get two wins from that group. With games against the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams, getting two or three wins there puts the Bengals at the 8-9 win threshold themselves.

Then they just need to get 1-2 more wins from the Chiefs, Seahawks, Broncos, Cardinals and Bills. That won't be easy, but it's something a true contender has to be able to do.

By no means is all of this meant to say the Bengals are winning the AFC North. Injuries and inconsistent play are things we've seen plague this team before and lead to them losing games they were meant to win.

The point is, Cincinnati has a firm grasp on the AFC North, and they can continue to strengthen their grasp upon it if they simply take care of their own business.