AFC North clearly owned by Steelers through eight weeks

Eight weeks into the 2017 NFL regular season, the picture of the AFC North has become clear. Once considered one of the most competitive divisions in the league, 2017 has seen all four teams – the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns – struggle at times. Three teams have managed to pull themselves back onto their feet after getting knocked down; one team has yet to find a way to win a single game. At the midway mark of the season, we’ll look at each team and what they’ll face moving forward.

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Steelers getting it done with grit, not flair

After a close win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night, the Steelers are showing that they aren’t looking for points on how pretty their style is but how effective it can be. Yes, they suffered setbacks in games to the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars; they’ve had some off-the-field melodrama with Martavis Bryant. After going to Arrowhead Stadium and handing the then-unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs a loss, the Steelers stepped onto Ford Field and used a stingy red zone defense to keep the Detroit Lions at bay.

Pittsburgh’s offense has not been the juggernaut many expected it to be prior to the season, but they’ve steadily found ways to overcome adverse conditions in the past couple of weeks. With wide receivers still a weak spot, however, they’re still looking for guys not named Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to step to the forefront. They got a big game from rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster and it couldn’t have come at a better time. They can utilize the ‘bye’ week to iron out the issues, adjust the playbook and prepare for a second half of the season that will be a challenge, but taking the AFC North title does not look like an unachievable goal.

The Steelers defense has shown a remarkable ability to recover and finally seems to have the necessary depth and personnel to stake their claim as the best unit in the league. After holding the Lions out of the end zone despite 482 yards of total offense, Pittsburgh has picked its battles wisely. They have been unafraid to enter trench warfare along the line and to go head-to-head in their own backfield, taking an aggressive stance that they will get the ball back to the offense even if it’s ugly.

Pittsburgh enters the bye on a three-game winning streak and of their final eight regular-season games, five of them will be played at home at Heinz Field. Only two upcoming opponents look to be games that should go in the Steelers’ favor, but in the NFL this year, anything could happen.

Teams Week Result Score Record
Steelers at Browns 1 Win 21-18 1-0
Steelers vs Vikings 2 Win 26-9 2-0
Steelers at Bears 3 Loss 17-23 2-1
Steelers at Ravens 4 Win 26-9 3-1
Steelers vs Jaguars 5 Loss 9-30 3-2
Steelers at Chiefs 6 Win 19-13 4-2
Steelers vs Bengals 7 Win 29-14 5-2
Steelers at Lions 8 Win 20-15 6-2


Upcoming Opponents Week Opp. Record W/L (as of Wk 8)
at Colts 10 2-6
vs Titans 11 4-3
vs Packers 12 4-3
at Bengals 13 3-4
vs Ravens 14 4-4
vs Patriots 15 6-2
at Texans 16 3-4
vs Browns 17 0-8

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Ravens inconsistent in up and down season

It’s debatable, but the Ravens very well could be the most inconsistent team in this division and the league in 2017. Every week, this team has come out onto the field looking the same and left it looking triumphant or defeated. It has been a strange, bizarre mix and with the ups and downs of quarterback Joe Flacco, there have been similar results on defense.

How the Ravens finish off their season is anyone’s guess at this point. If they stay true to what they’ve done through the first eight weeks – splitting wins and losses evenly – they may end up a .500 team when it’s all said and done.

At two games behind the Steelers, they could have used their bye a week earlier to get back on track, but what track that will be is to be determined. Their schedule won’t be an easy one as they try to get back into the race. And their final game against the Bengals may be one that helps determine post-season fates.

Teams Week Result Score Record
Ravens at Bengals 1 Win 20-0 1-0
Ravens vs Browns 2 Win 24-10 2-0
Ravens vs Jaguars 3 Loss 7-44 2-1
Ravens vs Steelers 4 Loss 9-26 2-2
Ravens at Raiders 5 Win 30-17 3-2
Ravens vs Bears 6 Loss 24-27 OT 3-3
Ravens at Vikings 7 Loss 16-24 3-4
Ravens vs Dolphins 8 Win 40-0 4-4


Upcoming Opponents Week Opp. Record W/L (as of Wk 8)
at Titans 9 4-3
Bye 10
at Packers 11 4-3
vs Texans 12 3-4
vs Lions 13 3-4
at Steelers 14 6-2
at Browns 15 0-8
vs Colts 16 2-6
vs Bengals 17 3-4

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Bengals clawing their way to relevance

The Bengals got off to a terrible start to the regular season, losing three games in a row with Andy Dalton looking frazzled and the defense not as dominant as past seasons. Cincinnati took two wins against teams that were struggling and lost to AFC North rival Pittsburgh.

After struggling to run the ball, the Bengals look like they will give more carries to Joe Mixon over Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill – for now – but the rookie rusher has yet to show he can carry the load week-to-week. Dalton has looked more comfortable and has been able to rely more on a defense that has stepped up its play as of late (and ranked as the fifth best unit in the league).

The Bengals would love to finish out the season strong, having their bye week come early, but they’ll face five teams above .500 (as of week eight) and two division leaders in the Vikings and Steelers.

Teams Week Result Score Record
Bengals vs Ravens 1 L 0-20 0-1
Bengals vs Colts 2 L 9-13 0-2
Bengals at Packers 3 L 24-27 OT 0-3
Bengals at Browns 4 W 31 -7 1-3
Bengals vs Bills 5 W 20-16 2-3
Bengals at Steelers 7 L 14-29 2-4
Bengals vs Colts 8 W 24-23 3-4


Upcoming Opponents Week Opp. Record W/L (as of Wk 8)
at Jaguars 9 4-3
at Titans 10 4-3
at Broncos 11 3-3 *
vs Browns 12 0-8
vs Steelers 13 6-2
vs Bears 14 3-5
at Vikings 15 6-2
vs Lions 16 3-4
at Ravens 17 4-4

(* as of the writing of this article, the Denver Broncos had not yet played Monday Night Football)

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Browns fading into obscurity

Winless. It’s a word no team in the NFL likes to hear – ever. For the second straight season, the Browns have been plagued with an inability to either get things going or finish strong. Last season, Cleveland didn’t get their first win until Christmas Eve. Their 2017 season is looking like it may be a repeat performance, and they’ll get lucky if they can get even one win.

In week eight, Cleveland had an opportunity in London to correct their season and led for most of the first half of the game against the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings. Instead, in Browns fashion, they blew it in the second half, losing by 17 points.

Cleveland isn’t just having a horrible season on offense; their defense has been anemic as well. The play-calling is questionable, as is time management. Overall, it has not mattered that the Browns had the top number of draft picks before the season began because they may end up in the same boat for the 2018 NFL Draft. They get a ‘bye’ in week nine (and could use one every other week until this season is over).

The ‘experiment’ in Cleveland should end, quickly, if the Browns hope to earn at least one “W” this season…and the end of their schedule isn’t painting a pretty picture.

Teams Week Result Score Record
Browns vs Pittsburgh 1 Loss 18-21 0-1
Browns at Ravens 2 Loss 10-24 0-2
Browns at Colts 3 Loss 28-31 0-3
Browns vs Bengals 4 Loss 7-31 0-4
Browns vs Jets 5 Loss 14-17 0-5
Browns at Texans 6 Loss 17-33 0-6
Browns vs Titans 7 Loss 9-12 OT 0-7
Browns vs Vikings 8 Loss 16-33 0-8


Upcoming Opponents Week Opp. Record W/L (as of Wk 8)
at Lions 10 3-4
vs Jaguars 11 4-3
at Bengals 12 3-4
at Chargers 13 3-5
vs Packers 14 4-3
vs Ravens 15 4-4
at Bears 16 3-5
at Steelers 17 6-2

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