Six weeks into the season and the division is still wide open. So the question remains; who will be the king in the AFC North.
The AFC North led the way as the most competitive division in the conference last season. The Pittsburgh Steelers topped the division thanks to a 11-0 start. The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns both managed 11-5 seasons and won their first playoff games before bowing out in the Divisional round
The Cincinnati Bengals only managed four wins but were unlucky to lose quarterback Joe Burrow to injury part way through the season.
Here I will be looking at each teams remaining schedules and trying to predict who will emerge victorious come the end of the season and who will fall short.
Despite reaching the divisional round of the playoffs last season, questions still remaining around Baltimore’s offence and whether Lamar Jackson’s throwing was good enough.
So when they lost a close game in overtime in week 1 to the Raiders, many wandered if it would be a similar story this year. Lamar Jackson again struggled throwing the ball in week 2 against the Chiefs, tossing two interceptions, but was still able to guide the Ravens to an impressive win. His 107 yards and 2 touchdown rushing was a major factor in that game.
Jackson has since had arguably his best game throwing the football in week 5. He had 442 yards and 4 touchdowns to lead an unlikely comeback to beat the Indianapolis Colts. The Ravens then backed that up with a dominant 34-6 win at home to the Chargers who themselves had looked impressive up until that point.
The Ravens 5-1 start has given them the platform to push on and fight for the division title and a high seeding for the playoffs. Next up they face two tricky home games against division rivals Bengals and then the inconsistent Vikings. I have them winning both those games and then getting two wins on the road against the Dolphins and Bears.
The Ravens finish the season with two difficult looking home games against the Rams and Packers as well as the three divisional road games which always provide a tricky test.
If Lamar Jackson can continue his form, I can’t see many teams stopping the Ravens. I have them finishing atop of the AFC North with an impressive 15-2 record
Having won only four games last year and not posting a winning season since 2015, the pressure is mounting on Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
First round wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has added an instant weapon for Burrow on the offense. While free agent signings of cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and defensive end Trey Hendrickson have propelled the Bengals defence to be one of the top ranked in the NFL.
The Bengals have started the season equaling last seasons win tally in just six weeks. And having lost their two games by a combined six points, its clear they will be a tough matchup for anyone. Week 7’s trip to Baltimore arguably poses their biggest test so far.
After week 7 the schedule offers a stretch of winnable games, including travelling to the Jets and hosting the Steelers and 49ers. I have the Ravens running away with the AFC North title so the Bengals will need to accumulate as many wins in this period as possible to give them a shout of a wild card spot. The final three games against the Ravens, Chiefs and Browns may prove critical to achieving a playoff spot, but even if they lose those three games I have them finishing with their first winning season for six years.
There was an air of excitement in Cleveland leading up to the season. Following 18 years of no playoff football, the Browns finally got a taste for it last season and were looking to build on that this year. With a stacked defence and powerful run game on offence they certainly have all the tools to make it to the post season.
The Browns started strongly with three wins in the first four games. But at a price. A string of injuries continue to plague them and have contributed to their stuttering performances since.
With the Ravens and Bengals looking particularly strong in the division, it gives Cleveland a tough task of getting enough wins to see Playoff football for a second season running. I have the Browns losing both legs against the high flying Ravens and splitting games with the Bengals and Steelers. I also have them losing a difficult trip to Green Bay. If they manage to win all the other games that only amounts to nine wins which I don’t see being enough.
The Steelers dominated at the start of last season going 11-0, but then stumbled the rest of the way into the playoffs. Many of us were wandering which Steelers would emerge for this year and when they battled to an impressive win in week 1 against the Bills it looked promising for Pittsburgh fans.
Three disappointing defeats followed though and things are now not looking so good. TJ Watt has been re-signed and Big Ben has managed to stay on the field but things just haven’t clicked yet. The offence has been one of the more boring to watch through 7 weeks with rookie Najee Harris one of the few bright sparks. Defensively Watt has been the beast we all come to expect but the rest of the defence has struggled to back him up at times.
The week 7 bye gives them a good opportunity to try and fix some of those issues and with the Bears and Lions coming to town soon after they have the chance to put some more wins on the board. The final 8 games of the schedule though are brutal and I can’t see the Steelers picking up more than two or three wins from those.
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