Steel City Underground's AFC North Report wraps up the result of each game played by rivals in the division and how the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers fared against their opponents each week during the NFL regular season.
After the debacle that was the Cleveland Browns game with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, the Baltimore Ravens showed that they may be the team to beat in the entire AFC this season. As for the Cincinnati Bengals, they're fielding a team that is likely to be completely rebuilt during the offseason and via the 2020 NFL Draft at this point.
Ravens, Jackson running away with the AFC North
For all the concerns that Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson may be a one-trick pony, he has certainly shown that isn't the case this season. Against the Houston Texans, Jackson outdueled DeShaun Watson as he completed 17-of-24 passes for 222 yards and four touchdowns. Jackson added 86 yards to Baltimore's total of 263 in the game.
Early this season, the team that was heralded as being in the Super Bowl due to winning the AFC Championship would be the New England Patriots once again. With the Patriots in what has been a weaker division, there was little thought that Baltimore would have what it took to challenge the dominance of New England. Then the Ravens beat the unbeaten Patriots.
As December football nears, the Ravens look like the team to beat and will be talked about as the AFC's Super Bowl favorite, especially after their defense completely dominated Watson and the Texans, 41-7. After beating playoff-contention opponents in three of their last four games, the Ravens carry an 8-2 record into a Monday night meeting with the Los Angeles Rams.
If the AFC playoffs started in Week 11 (Power Rankings)
With a 9-1 record, the Patriots would still be the No. 1 seed in the conference after they exited the bye with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, maintaining a one-game lead for home-field advantage but down a head-to-head tiebreaker.
The 8-2 Ravens, easily in first place in the AFC North, own the key tie-breakers in place for the top seed and will maintain it if the Kansas City Chiefs, who beat Baltimore, continues to slide. They are the No. 2 seed.
The Indianapolis Colts (6-4, first place AFC South), Chiefs (6-4, first place AFC West), and Buffalo Bills (7-3, second place AFC East) would be No. 3, 4, and 5.
With the Oakland Raiders handing the Cincinnati Bengals (0-10) a loss, they moved ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the win over Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Browns (4-6) are just one win away from both the Steelers (5-5) and Tennessee Titans (5-5). The Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) and Los Angeles Chargers (4-6) are also still in contention.
Second game between Steelers, Browns becomes more important
By now, most NFL fans know what 'went down' on Thursday night between the Browns and the Steelers. With all the leftover animosity sure to continue to brew as December 1 gets closer and closer, the second game between these divisional rivals becomes more important in who has a chance to catch Baltimore and possibly make the playoffs.
The Steelers play the Bengals next. The Browns will face the Miami Dolphins. On paper, those games both look like wins for the AFC North teams. On paper. A win by both teams would allow Pittsburgh to still hold a one-game lead in the division over the Browns. If the Steelers drop the game to the Bengals, and the Browns beat the Dolphins, it makes the second meeting between the two teams of even greater importance. Both teams need a win to keep themselves in contention for a playoff berth and any hope for that may come down to the outcome on December 1.
Everything on the line
When the Steelers and Browns should be focused on stacking wins in order to keep the Ravens from easily running away with the division championship, there's little doubt that they will - unfortunately - be a bit too focused on each other. With fans and the media continuously replaying the last eight seconds of the game, bickering over what may or may not have initiated the 'incident' that shook the NFL, and generalizations being tossed around on social media, the Ravens are being completely overlooked by a majority of people who enjoy AFC North football.
The Steelers and Browns can't afford to let what happened get in the way of what is ahead of them, though, when everything is on the line.
Baltimore will play the San Francisco 49ers on December 1, then the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Browns, and the Steelers to finalize the season.
Cleveland will play the Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, Ravens, and Bengals to wrap their season.
Pittsburgh will play the Cardinals, Bills, Jets, and Ravens to wrap their season.