When you think of the AFC North, two teams usually come to mind, the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It seems that year after year, these two teams battle it out all season long until one walks away with the AFC North crown.
However, this year is playing out a bit differently. Before a three-game losing streak, the Baltimore Ravens sat at 9-2 and had a commanding lead in the division. It seemed as if the only way they could not win the division is if the team practically fell apart. Unfortunately, that happened and now the Ravens are sitting on thin ice as the Cincinnati Bengals are riding on a late season charge that could put them on top of the division.
The Steelers saw a similar collapse after upsetting the Ravens in week 13, losing their next two and now sit on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs completely. With a loss this week to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers will be removed from playoff contention, putting eight in the loss column for the first time since 2006. For the Steelers to take the division, they’ll need to win out and have the Ravens lose out. Not an impossible scenario given the recent play of the Ravens but an uncharacteristic position for the Steelers to be in this late during the season.
The Bengals are the biggest surprise at this point. Somehow, they were able to survive a four-game slide and win five of their next six to give them the sixth seed if the season ended today. With their two remaining games against divisional opponents in the Steelers and Ravens respectively, the Bengals control their own destiny when it comes to making the playoffs. Simply beat the Steelers this week and they’re in. To take the division, win out while the Ravens lose out.
In all of these scenarios, one constant remains, the Ravens need to lose out to give up the AFC North. While they already clinched at least a wild card spot, the Ravens simply cannot continue to self-destruct during these last two games. Win one more game and Baltimore will get a home playoff game for the second consecutive year. This will be no simple task as both the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals are quite formidable opponents.
The path is clear, but if we’ve learned anything from the Ravens during the past three weeks, it’s that nothing is as easy as it sounds.