Steelers, Ravens, Bengals: Breaking Down the AFC North Playoff Picture
Where they stand: The Ravens are 9-3 and sitting atop the AFC North, squarely in the driver’s seat to win the division and its playoff spot. They hold a 2-game lead over the Steelers and Bengals, and also hold all tiebreakers against both teams.
What’s left: The Ravens play at Washington, vs. Denver, vs. New York Giants, and at the Bengals in the next four weeks. Compared to the rest of the division, this is a gauntlet. Every team on that list is playing for a playoff spot.
What they need to do: Baltimore can clinch the division title by winning 2 of their remaining 4 games. Likewise, to ensure themselves a wild card spot, they need to win 2 games. Clearly, though, the Ravens are aiming to win the AFC North.
Conclusion: Although they sit at 9-3, the Ravens are far from safe. With 4 of their toughest opponents of the season loaded into the last four weeks of their schedule, anything can happen. They only need to win a couple of these games, but they won’t be playing anyone that’s going to lay down.
Where they stand: The Steelers are 7-5 and tied with the Bengals for 2nd place in the division. They sit 2 games back of the Ravens and lose the tiebreaker against them. The division title is still possible, but they need a lot of help from RG3 and the Manning brothers.
What’s left: The Steelers play vs. the Chargers, at Cowboys, vs. Bengals and vs. Browns. A pretty easy schedule minus the Bengals, as the Bengals are the only team with playoff hopes.
What they need to do: To win the division the Steelers almost have to win out. Even if they do, though, the Ravens would have to lose 3 of 4. Let’s assume that doesn’t happen and the Steelers are looking for a wildcard spot. Essentially there are 3 teams for 2 spots: the Steelers, Colts, and Bengals. Indy sits with a one game lead and the tiebreaker (for now anyway) against the Steelers. What it will likely come down to is either the Bengals or the Steelers are going to get in. Week 16 should be fun.
Conclusion: The Steelers need to win 2 or 3 games (one of them being the Bengals) and they’ll be in. Coming off their huge win at Baltimore and the shot in the arm of Big Ben getting back under center, the Steeler are poised for a run.
Where they stand: The Bengals are 7-5 and tied with the Steelers for 2nd place in the AFC North, 2 games behind Baltimore. The division title isn’t completely out of reach, but it would take a monumental collapse by the Ravens.
What’s left: Cincinnati plays vs. the Cowboys, at Eagles, at Steelers, and vs. Baltimore. This is a pretty difficult schedule with every team being pre-season playoff favorites.
What the need to do: The Bengals need do better than the Steelers. Right now they hold the tiebreaker, so if they can beat the Steelers, they will really only need to win one more of their games to nearly guarantee themselves a playoff spot. Technically, they could be playing for the division in week 17 if the Ravens can’t pull out a win in the next 3 weeks, but I don’t see that happening.
Conclusion: The Bengals most likely need to win 3 of their final 4 games, with one of those being against the Steelers. That’s not going to be an easy task, but when you go 35 days without a win during the season and still have a shot at the playoffs, you have to be pretty happy.