With their 21-14 win on Sunday, the Ravens snapped a four-game losing streak and got a crucial division win. More incredibly, with the victory they leapfrogged the Steelers and Bengals to sit alone atop a suddenly mediocre AFC North.
The Ravens still have an uphill climb to get back to the playoffs. Their first-half schedule was soft, and filled with teams who likely won’t be playing any football come January. Their second half schedule? Not so much. After a matchup with Browns this Thursday, Baltimore travels to play a very good Dallas team and still has road games against Pittsburgh and New England and two games against the Bengals.
A playoff berth still seems like a long shot, but the Ravens do have a chance. Not necessarily because they are that good; they’re just fortunate to suddenly be playing in arguably the most mediocre division in football.
The Browns fell to 0-9 on Sunday and look like they could be the first team to go winless since the 2008 Detroit Lions. They are clearly in full rebuild mode and fortunately for the Ravens it looks like they’ll face Cody Kessler this Thursday and not Josh McCown. At home it’s as close a gimme as they’ll get at this point and it’s a prime opportunity to get back above .500.
The Bengals have taken an obvious step back this season. The losses of Marvin Jones and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson have had clear impacts. If not for a missed chip shot by Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins last week, a game that eventually ended in a tie, they would be a 3-5 team. Sitting at 3-4-1, they are a true reflection of their record. They’ve been one-and-done in the playoffs for five consecutive seasons. The way 2016 is shaping up, they may have to wait another year to get that monkey off their back.
Then there’s Steelers. Until a couple weeks ago they looked like not just the best team in their division but one of the better teams in the AFC. Three consecutive losses and an injury to Ben Roethlisberger have them reeling. Until the final eight minutes of their game against the Ravens, they looked like a really bad football team. If that’s because Roethlisberger wasn’t healthy enough to play, then they should have sat him for at least another week.
With their bye week in the rear view it will be tough for Big Ben to fully recover at any point this year.
Despite a four-game losing streak the Ravens might have a legitimate path to the playoffs. They’ve done little to instill confidence, even after a win Sunday. But at the moment, no one in the AFC North looks much better.