The AFC North has been perennially expected to yield multiple playoff teams in recent years. That’s been the case four of the last six seasons, but at the moment, the second place Steelers have the worst record of any second place team in the AFC.
In fact, even if we remove the winless Browns from the equation, the AFC North’s top three teams have the worst record of any such divisional combination in the league. So, while the Browns continue to show less hope of preventing the 0-16 parade by the week, this week we’re gonna figure out if the Browns stink is really rubbing off on the rest of the division.
How bad is the AFC North, really?
Baltimore Ravens: 5-4, First place
wins: Bills, Browns twice, Jaguars, Steelers
Losses: Raiders, Redskins, Giants, Jets
Strength: Defense+Special Teams
Weakness: Having the Ball
The Ravens are the worst kind of team for the Red Zone Channel. The Browns win Thursday was the first double digit margin of victory game that Baltimore has played all season. Their games are close, but nobody scores any touchdowns.
The Ravens rank first in total defense and 25th in total offense. They have played in three games where the two teams involved combined to score over 40 points, yet they always take up valuable Red Zone time only to stall out and have their prototype kicker, Justin Tucker, finish the job.
For the “seriously thinking of switching over to Family Feud instead of football” style the Ravens play, special teams are important, and the Ravens were in the top 10 in special teams DVOA entering week 9.
It’s unclear wether the Ravens will be able to muck their way into a division title, but they currently top the standings, so it’s worked to this point.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 4-5, second place, two games out of a wild card spot
Wins: Redskins, Bengals, Chiefs, Jets
Losses: Eagles, Dolphins, Patriots, Ravens, Cowboys
Strengths: Having top five players at QB, RB, and WR, healthy O-line
Weaknesses: Secondary with a long way to go, injured front seven
Pittsburgh has gotten ten games combined out of Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, and Bud Dupree. The young linebacker trio showed promise at points last season, but each has had his bouts with the sideline this season.
The Steelers have still managed a league average run defense, but their young secondary has gotten little help from the pass rush, as the Steelers are tied for 30th in sacks this season.
The offense looked back to its normal self against Dallas on Sunday, and this is still probably the most talented team in the division, but Roethlisberger’s injury has made the margin for error much thinner for a team that likes to a lay an egg every now and again.
Cincinnati Bengals: 3-4-1, third in division, game and a half out of Wild Card (I think, ties hurt my brain)
Wins: Jets, Dolphins, Browns
Losses: Steelers, Broncos, Cowboys, Patriots
Strengths: A.J. Green, Tyler Eifort, Regular Season Dalton, run game
Weaknesses: Deteriorated pass blocking O-line, pass defense, special teams
For the past few seasons, the Bengals have had arguably the most talented roster in the league. It was easy to write the “Andy Dalton is propped up by his surrounding cast” column.
This season, not so much. Just about the only thing the Bengals do well consistently is throw the ball. They’re seventh in rushing yards per game, but have been handcuffed in that regard because they’ve been too far behind in their losses.
Tonight’s game against the Giants could be the beginning of Cincy’s renaissance, but a loss only pushes them further away from the playoff picture. Tyler Eifort’s return has catapulted the Bengals’ red zone offense from 29th to 19th in just two games, but the Cincy O-line has also given up the fifth most sacks in the NFL.
For Cincinnati to get where it wants to go, it has to be able to leverage its run game, keep Dalton upright, and hang closer early on with the NFL’s elite, which means they need more consistent performances from the defense
Cleveland Browns: 0-10, last in division, no chance at making playoffs
Strengths: Up and coming skill players, spotty highlight young guys on defense, Joe Thomas
weaknesses: The rest of the team
The Browns rank in the bottom five of both total offense and total defense. They’ve had six quarterbacks take snaps this season, and even their special teams is ranked 24th in DVOA.
We know this a sorry team, and Cleveland just got blown out for the second week in a row with a desperate Pittsburgh looming. This stretch will determine how much Hue Jackson has changed the culture of the team thus far.
If the Browns stay feisty with teams they can hang with after getting blown out for a third straight week against Pittsburgh, Jackson will have made a real breakthrough. Other than that, the 49ers are still lurking, and the race for the top spot in April is on.