By Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens spent most of the season so far as the frontrunner in the AFC North. The Pittsburgh Steelers got off to a 1-3 start. The Cleveland Browns have been dealing with injuries and have been up and down. Their 5-5 record is proof of that. The Cincinnati Bengals have exceeded expectations but a couple of humbling losses has them back down to earth. It’s up for grabs in the AFC.
Which Baltimore Ravens team shows up?
It’s hard to know who the most trustworthy team is in the division. The Baltimore Ravens have a lot of their wins because of comebacks and miraculous moments. When they lost to the Miami Dolphins in Week 10, it showed how capable the Ravens were of laying an egg against lesser competition.
The Ravens have one constant. As long as they have Lamar Jackson they have a chance to win. Jackson is playing like an MVP and he’s the most important player in the entire division, maybe even in the NFL. The problem the Ravens have is that if Jackson is off by just a bit, the Ravens become a less powerful team. He’s the electricity and there is no backup generator.
The Ravens are so close to being an amazing team. Defensively the Ravens are solid in a lot of ways. The problem is they give up too many big plays. The big plays have haunted this team. It’s what squashed the comeback effort in Miami and what fueled the Raiders and Bengals victories over them. The Ravens can get a decent number of stops, but until they can be trusted not to have blown coverage down the field, or a missed tackle that springs a short pass into a long touchdown, the Ravens will be doing things the hard way.
The story of the Steelers:
The Steelers just tied with the Detroit Lions in an ugly game. Granted, the Steelers had to play the Lions without Ben Roethlisberger, but his absence showed how much is going wrong in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has gotten their wins in scrape by fashion. Many would tell you that the NFL officials propelled them unfairly against the Chicago Bears. The Steelers barely beat the Seattle Seahawks without Russell Wilson. While the Browns only put up 10 points against them, Pittsburgh struggled to get their 15 points on the board.
Defensively, the Steelers have a lot going for them. Games with the Steelers are good for betting the under. The Steelers haven’t scored more than 29 points in a game this season. Their opponents don’t light up the score either. If T.J. Watt gets healthy, the Steelers have a shot to keep winning with their defense.
The Steelers’ big conflict, in a nutshell, is that they average 19.7 points per game and their opponents average 20.6 points per game. The defense has to do the heavy lifting. Their offense finds little grooves here and there, but their overall output isn’t great. A battle with the Steelers is usually a race to 24 points. Get there first and you’re probably giving Pittsburgh a loss.
Can you trust the Browns or Bengals?
Baker Mayfield has been dealing with injuries and for the most part, playing through them. The Browns quarterback isn’t having the 2021 season Cleveland was hoping for though, which is something to be mindful of. He has 1,990 passing yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. The Browns have scored under 20 points in five games this season and just lost 45-7 to the New England Patriots.
Dealing with injuries to notable stars like Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and Greedy Williams, the Browns have stayed in the thick of things. They’ve folded against good competition though, losing big to the Arizona Cardinals, and Patriots. They came up short against the Chiefs and botched a legitimate shot to take down Pittsburgh. The Browns are a tricky wild card. They have to be taken seriously, but they haven’t looked like world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination.
The Bengals are 5-4. There was a ton of buzz around the Bengals after they knocked the doors off the Ravens. Since then. the Bengals have lost to the New York Jets and then got torched by the up and down Browns.
Baltimore Ravens’ Bottom Line:
Every team has had its big moment. Every team has its moment as the frontrunner. If there was a team in the AFC North that had all their ducks in a row, that team would be in a one-horse race. In actuality, the AFC North is a battle between four teams that could show up hot or cold on any Sunday. That’s why getting it right is so crucial for the Baltimore Ravens. There is no time to waste.
The Ravens play the Browns after their battle with the Chicago Bears. Then they have the Steelers and a rematch against the Browns. It’s probably not going to be this easy, yet if the Ravens won the next four games they’d be 10-3 in a very comfortable situation. This opportunity is huge for Baltimore. The expectation has to be two wins out of the three consecutive AFC North battles.
The bottom line is that any team in this division can walk away with the crown. The Ravens still have five divisional games left. If they win four of them, they probably win the division. It’s that simple. Baltimore must find consistency right away. The AFC North team that finds the answers they need to find wins division. The team that puts it all together wins. It’s that simple, and the Baltimore Ravens have got to get some work done.