AFC North Round Up: Steelers, Ravens and Bengals Near or at the Top of the Pack in AFC After Week 8 Wins

Week 8 of the 2011 NFL season is in the books -- at least for the four teams comprising the AFC North division. The Pittsburgh Steelers retained their claim to first place in the division by playing exceptionally well at Heinz Field on Sunday in a 25-17 victory over the New England Patriots. The Steelers' two primary competitors in the division this year -- the rival Baltimore Ravens and the upstart Cincinnati Bengals -- also won in Week 8. That sets up an awfully interesting next two weeks, as the Steelers get set to host Baltimore in Week 9 then travel to Cincinnati the following Sunday. The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, fell to 3-4 after getting handled fairly easily out west by the surging San Francisco 49ers. Let's take a quick gander at the standings, then review how each team fared this Sunday. 

AFC North Standings (through Week 8)
Team Record Div. Record Conf. Record Streak Scoring Differential
Pittsburgh Steelers 6-2 0-1 4-2 Won 4 + 37
Cincinnati Bengals 5-2 1-0 4-1 Won 4 + 48
Baltimore Ravens 5-2 1-0 3-2 Won 1 + 75
Cleveland Browns 3-4 0-1 2-3 Lost 1 - 33

Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Record: 6-2
  • Week 8 Result: 25-17 W vs. New England Patriots
  • How they did it: The Steelers played their most complete game of the year in Week 8, doing just enough on both offense, defense and special teams to emerge victorious over the nemesis New England Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger protected the football well all things considered. I can live with one turnover when he's asked to throw the ball 50 times. As efficient and methodical as the offense was -- Bruce Arians's unit averaged 5.5 yards per play on 78 offensive snaps -- the real story on Sunday was the lights out effort turned in by Dick LeBeau's defensive unit. The Steelers held the top ranked offense (in terms of yards per game) to just 213 yards, less than half their yearly average of 474.5 yards/game. We'll turn our attention back to the Steelers shortly; this post is more to check in around the rest of the division. But obviously there's a million individual and team accolades to hand out for the win. 
  • Next Two Weeks: vs. Baltimore Ravens, at Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals
  • Record: 5-2
  • Week 8 Result: 34-12 W at Seattle Seahawks
  • How they did it: The Bengals are also winners of four consecutive games after picking up a commendable road victory in Seattle in Week 8. The Bengals raced out to a 17-3 halftime lead, then after staving off a potential Seahawks comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, iced the game with two late touchdowns on a punt return and an interception to win 34-12. The Bengals will drop a bit in the yards per game allowed standings (they yielded 411 on Sunday), but their defense played quite well in the win. I was watching the game when not pumping my fist in delight about what was transpiring in Pittsburgh, and I am more than comfortable saying that Steeler Nation should be penciling that Week 10 road matchup with the Bengals just as they are next week's home affair with the rival Ravens. It's quite possible that the Steelers will be playing their third consecutive game with enormous stakes when they travel to Cincinnati. In fact, win or lose this coming weekend, the following Sunday's tilt against the Bengals is every bit as important as the Steelers' Week 9 matchup. Andy Dalton looks much better than I thought possible. Leaving aside the 'heady' 'game manager' stuff he's doing well, Dalton made deep touchdown pass to fellow rookie A.J. Greene that had even me clapping. Check it out, sick throw. 
  • Next Two Weeks: at Tennessee Titans, vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore Ravens
  • Record: 5-2
  • Week 8 Result30-27 W at Arizona Cardinals
  • How they did it:: The Ravens became the fifth team in 2011 to overcome a 20-point deficit and win when they stormed back from 24-3 down at home against the Cardinals to win 30-27. On the one hand, you have to scratch your head and wonder if a truly legit team would allow themselves to fall that far behind at home without turning the ball over repeatedly (which Baltimore did not). On the other hand, you have to acknowledge the explosiveness of this team for pulling off that type of resounding comeback. Yes, the Ravens were a bit lucky this week, but a win is a win and the Ravens are now heading to Pittsburgh having played 30 great minutes of football to improve to 5-2.
  • Next Two Weeks: at Pittsburgh Steelers, at Seattle Seahawks

 

Cleveland Browns
  • Record: 3-4
  • Week 8 ResultL 20-10 at San Francisco 49ers
  • How they did it: Yikes, the Browns offense is regressing in a big way, having now scored a mere 16 points in their past 8 quarters -- 6 against the Seahawks in their low-scoring Week 7 win, and 10 in Week 8 in a losing effort against San Francisco. Maybe the Madden Curse is real? Peyton Hillis, just one year removed from achieving god-like status along Lake Erie, has been a total non-factor (for reasons not entirely in his control, of course). Cleveland was inevitably going to struggle acclimating to first year head coach Pat Shurmur's west coast offense, but what's unfolded this past two weeks has to make Browns fans concerned about how the rest of the 2011 season might play out. You can win with Colt McCoy, but only if there is a very complimentary ground game to relieve some of the pressure off him. In Week 8, the Browns averaged a skimpy 2.9 yards per carry on 23 attempts; for the year they're not faring much better, averaging just 3.3 yards per pop heading into Sunday. 
  • Next Two Weeks: at Houston Texans, vs. St. Louis Rams
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