Nobody looks good enough to run away with the AFC North, which gives the Ravens a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.
Halfway through the season, the AFC North is the only division without a team above .500. The Ravens (4-4), Steelers (4-4), and Bengals (3-4-1) could very well duke things out until Week 17, with the division winner going to the playoffs, and everyone else in the division going home.
The AFC North is not the AFC West, a division that could send three teams to the playoffs – the Raiders (7-2), the Chiefs (6-2), and the Broncos (6-3). The AFC North is a collection of teams still searching for an identity. And that’s before you even mention the hapless Browns (0-9), the NFL’s only winless team.
Until their 21-14 victory over the Steelers on Sunday, the Ravens had not won a game since Sept. 25. Yet, the Ravens woke up Monday leading the division.
The Steelers have lost three straight, and while they clearly have the talent to make a late-season run, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, and wide receiver Antonio Brown all sounded frustrated after losing to the Ravens. The Steelers were shutout for three quarters, and Brown (seven catches, 85 yards, one TD) will continue to see double-team attention until the Steelers make opponents pay.
“It’s been about eight weeks so far, and that’s what we’ve been seeing – double-coverage,” said Brown. Other guys got to step up. It just shows that people got respect for me, but we have to find a way to win no matter what they do.”
The Bengals (3-4-1) had a bye Sunday, but they don’t look as potent offensively this season after losing wide receivers Marvin Jones (Lions) and Mohamed Sanu (Falcons) in free agency, and losing former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who left to become the Browns head coach.
Following Sunday’s game, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was relieved to end a four-game losing streak, but challenged his teammates to raise their level of play in the second half of the season.
“We’ll take the win, but we ain’t satisfied,” Suggs said. “Veteran teams, good teams, they don’t take a step back.”
The Ravens have a short week, hosting the Browns on Thursday night. But after that, the Ravens’ schedule gets much tougher, including road games against the Patriots (7-1), Cowboys (7-1), Steelers, and Bengals.
However, it may not take more than nine wins to capture the AFC North. Halfway through the season, despite all their offensive struggles, the Ravens clearly have hope.