Steeler fans are sweating out the team's uncharacteristic start to the 2013 season while, at the same time, hoping that the past two weeks are a harbinger of better things to come. And when you take a closer look at the performance of AFC North teams so far this season, there is additional cause for hope that a 2-4 football team might still recover in time to win its division.
Consider the fact that, while the first-place Cincinnati Bengals lead the pack at 5-2, they've scored an average of only 2 points per game more than they've given up. Over seven games, the Bengals have scored 148 points and have given up 135 points. Not exactly a record that strikes fear into opponents, but apparently enough to engender the typical, apoplectic "Who Dey?" mania throughout the Queen City.
And after Cincinnati's pedestrian record, things get downright crappy. After winning the Super Bowl in February, the Baltimore Ravens have scored only 2 more points than their opponents so far this season in posting a 3-4 record. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are sinking fast at 3-4, having just been trounced 31-14 by a banged-up Packers team. Like the 2-4 Steelers, the Browns have surrendered 25 more points in six games than they've scored.
Looking elsewhere around the NFL, we find similar mediocrity in the AFC East, AFC South, and NFC East, where only one team in each division has scored more points than its opponents. While we've criticized the Steelers for defensive underachieving so far this season, consider that the Steelers are surrendering an average of 22 points per game. But Denver and Philadelphia have given up an average of 28 points per game, while the Giants and the Bears have averaged 30 points per game given up. In fact, the Broncos' defense has been practically non-existent and the team's 6-1 record has only been made possible by a powerful offense that is scoring an average of more than 42 points per game. If we use 150 points-against as the benchmark for crappy defense over a 7-game span, then 15 NFL teams currently belong to the Crappy-D Club.
So friends, I'm here to tell you that it wasn't over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, and it's not over yet for the 2013 Steelers. Like the boys of Delta House, we can brace ourselves with a stiff drink and summon those dark inner forces that will propel us to victory in a division of similarly flawed frat brothers. 9-7 could easily win this division. Do I hear 8-8??