Quarterback is the most important position in football, and this season’s race for best bet has been thrilling to watch. However, it came down to two teams: Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. The AFC North could be decided as early as Sunday night, but who will prevail?
The AFC North is the NFL’s tightest race in 44 years. The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers are all within one game of each other as we enter Week 12. Read more in detail here: afc north.
The AFC North isn’t the finest division in football, but it is the most competitive.
Any club may win or finish last with three weeks remaining in the regular season. At this stage in the season, the division competition is the tightest it’s been in 44 years, with just one game separating the top two teams (the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, both 8-6) from the bottom (the Cleveland Browns at 7-7). The Pittsburgh Steelers, the reigning division champions, are a half-game behind at 7-6-1.
The last time a division was this congested with three weeks left, according to Elias Sports Bureau data, was the AFC Central in 1977, when the Oilers were in Houston, the Ravens were the Browns, and Terry Bradshaw was quarterbacking the eventual division champion Steelers.
Here’s how the playoff bracket currently stands, as well as the possible outcomes. • Playoff picture and potential clinchers « • ESPN’s NFL Playoff Machine is interactive » • Football Power Index » | Standings
No club has led the AFC North by more than one game during the first 15 weeks of the season, setting up a thrilling conclusion. Is it possible for the Bengals to move from last to first in a single season? Will a banged-up Lamar Jackson help the Ravens capture their third division championship in four years? Will the Steelers give Ben Roethlisberger his seventh AFC North title in what may be his last season? Is it possible that the Browns will win their first division title since 1989?
The resident guru of the AFC North, Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler, knows the stakes over the next 20-plus days.
“From here on out, I’d say every week is a playoff game,” Zeitler, who has previously blocked for the Bengals and Browns, said.
The AFC North will be decided by the victor of Sunday’s game between the Bengals and the Ravens (1 p.m. ET, CBS), but every club has a chance to win.
“I believe Cincinnati wins it, and I’ve been thinking that for the past two months,” ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said. “Pittsburgh’s attack isn’t explosive enough, and its defense isn’t good enough to compensate. And, considering their injuries, I’m not sure how the Ravens are even in this position. I believe it will all catch up to you eventually. Cleveland is struggling with quarterback inconsistency and an injury. I don’t think so, particularly with Green Bay coming up this weekend.”
Jamison Hensley of ESPN’s Ravens beat
Ben Baby of the Bengals, Brooke Pryor of the Steelers, Jake Trotter of the Browns, and Hensley of the AFC North talk down the AFC North’s final stretch. ESPN Football Power Index gave the percentages.
Why the Bengals may not be able to win: Cincinnati’s offense has been the greatest problem all season. On the surface, the figures don’t seem to be too awful. The Bengals were 13th in yards per play and 12th in scores per drive after Sunday’s games. But, particularly early in games, Cincinnati’s failure to sustain drives has been a problem. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bengals had the fifth-highest three-and-out percentage in the NFL after their victory against Denver. Cincinnati has scored 18 touchdowns on plays of 20 yards or longer, the most in the league. That’s not the most sustainable method to win games, much alone secure a playoff berth. – Ben Little
Will Lamar Jackson be able to play on Sunday, or will the Ravens have to rely on Tyler Huntley, who has performed well in his place? courtesy of Getty Images/Patrick Smith
Chances of making the playoffs according to FPI: 54.5 percent
FPI’s odds of winning the division are 35.0 percent.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson is one of the reasons why the Ravens have a chance to win. Jackson can carry a club like few others when he’s at his best (which hasn’t been since Week 9). Jackson became the first player in NFL history to amass 2,000 passing yards and 600 running yards in his team’s first eight games when Baltimore started 6-2. However, there are concerns regarding Jackson’s health, since he is suffering with an injured right ankle. The Ravens have trust in backup Tyler Huntley, but he won’t be able to make as many game-changing plays as Jackson. Another reason to be optimistic is the Ravens’ defense. In five of their last six games, Baltimore has kept opponents to under 20 points.
Why the Ravens could lose: Injuries have finally caught up with them. With a strewn-together roster and the loss of seven players, Baltimore has undoubtedly outperformed expectations this season. When you consider that the Bengals, Rams, and Steelers are all pretty healthy, the Ravens’ end-of-season schedule is even more daunting. They have a total of 23 players on injured reserve, which is the same amount that the Ravens have had on injured reserve this season. Baltimore is still fighting, having lost its last three games by a combined four points. However, you have to question how much this depleted squad still has. Jamison Hensley (Jamison Hensley)
If Ben Roethlisberger departs Pittsburgh after this season, this might be his last opportunity to lead the Steelers to the playoffs. Icon Sportswire/Ian Johnson
FPI’s odds of making the playoffs are 18.8%.
FPI’s odds of winning the division are 11.2 percent.
Why the Steelers can win: The Steelers are 7-6-1 despite a struggling offense and a defense that ranks second-to-last against the run after 14 games. The Steelers, owing to T.J. Watt’s Defensive Player of the Year-caliber performance and fiery fourth-quarter comebacks, might be the only team surviving if they retain momentum from victories over the Ravens and Tennessee Titans while the rest of the division suffers with COVID-19 breakouts and injury. Mike Tomlin could be considered for Coach of the Year if the Steelers win the division despite a 1-4 start and a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season.
Why the Steelers may not be able to win: The Steelers’ rush defense is among the bottom of the league, and their running game is terrible. Despite selecting running back Najee Harris in the first round, the Steelers’ ground game is second worst in the league, averaging 1,184 yards and 3.6 yards per carry. The Steelers aren’t winning in the trenches, to put it bluntly. Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback, has been excellent but not spectacular, and he and the offense have a nasty history of beginning slowly. Late surges have helped the Steelers win close games in the past, but depending on them to win a tight division isn’t a sure thing. Brooke Pryor is an actress who plays Brooke Pryor.
Baker Mayfield and the Browns have had a difficult season, but they still have a chance to make the playoffs. Ken Blaze is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
FPI’s odds of making the playoffs are 16.7%.
FPI’s odds of winning the division are 13.8 percent.
Why the Browns have a chance to win: Of the four teams in the division, the Browns have the second-easiest remaining strength of schedule. Two of Cleveland’s final games are against divisional opponents (at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati), providing the Browns a chance to make up ground. Despite the COVID-19 difficulties, the defense has found its stride, and quarterback Baker Mayfield is as healthy as he’s been all season. Cleveland’s potent rushing game is also on the road, and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should be fit for the final stretch.
Why the Browns could fall short: With three games remaining, the Browns are in last position in the division. It won’t be easy to win at Green Bay on Christmas Day, particularly on short rest, but Cleveland may have little choice if they want to win the division without any aid. Even when completely healthy, the offense has struggled, scoring more than 17 points just once since Oct. 10 (Myles Garrett’s defensive touchdown in Cleveland’s 24-22 victory against Baltimore in Week 14). The Browns have no margin for mistake after a painful defeat to the Raiders. Jake Trotter’s remark
Frequently Asked Questions
Who wins AFC North?
A: The current AFC North standings are as follows (pending the completion of Week 16):
Do the Browns have a chance to win the AFC North?
Who won 2022 AFC North?
A: The Indianapolis Colts
- browns division
- afc north standings
- ravens division