Ten games into the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves with a 2.5 game lead in the AFC North. Although everyone may still be mathematically in contention, there is an element of reality which must be setting in for the other AFC North teams. Looking forward at the match-up’s, how many more victories do the Steelers need in order to secure the AFC North?
Here are the current AFC North standings after Week 11 of the NFL season:
- Pittsburgh 7-2-1
- Baltimore 5-5 (2.5 GB)
- Cincinnati 5-5 (2.5 GB)
- Cleveland 3-6-1 (4 GB)
The simplest team to dissect is the Cleveland Browns since they also have a tie and the Steelers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Browns would have to make up five games against the Steelers while also passing the Ravens and Bengals. Either two Steelers’ wins or two Brown’s losses (or one of each) would eliminate them from the AFC North championship.
Both the Ravens and Bengals are 5-5 and in need of making up three games in order to get ahead in the North. Assuming either one of them could win out, the Steelers would need four wins to maintain the lead. So the pure mathematics shows the Steelers magic number is four, with every win or losses by both the Bengals and Ravens reducing the number. For example, in a scenario where the Steelers were able to win this Sunday while both the Ravens and Bengals lost, the magic number would be down to two.
So the Steelers can wrap up the AFC North mathematically with four more wins regardless of any other team’s records. But can Baltimore or Cincinnati realistically run the table their final six games?
Cincinnati has two remaining road games against teams currently in the playoff picture: at the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13 and in Pittsburgh Week 17. Their other games remaining are a “home and away” with Cleveland while also hosting Denver and Oakland. Realistically, I don’t see Cincinnati being favored in any more than three of those remaining games with the game against Cleveland in Cincinnati being dependent on how both teams are playing when it rolls around. Since the line on Sundays game between these two teams in Cincinnati is teetering between even and one point for Cleveland, saying that the Browns would be favored again at home the next time around is not a stretch.
As for Baltimore, they must go on the road against Kansas City, the Los Angeles Chargers, as well as the Atlanta Falcons. Their home games are against Oakland, Tampa Bay, Cleveland. I would predict they would be underdogs in at least two of their away games, with the game in Atlanta being a closer line when it comes out next week. In a realistic scenario, I could see Baltimore winning four games as well. With the uncertainty in quarterback play moving forward, their win total could shoot up to five or six, or it could fall to one or two.
Although either team could get really hot and go on a win streak to finish the season, the reality is both the Bengals and the Ravens would be doing well to win four more games. If this is the case, the Steelers would be left needing two more victories in their last six games in order to secure the AFC North.
At 7-2-1, the AFC North should not be the prize the Steelers are playing for the final six weeks of the season. A lot could happen with the seedings, and the Steelers have put themselves in a position where if they can win the difficult games they have remaining, they have a shot at ending up atop the AFC.