Eleven games into the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves with a 1.5 game lead in the AFC North. With wins by the Ravens and Browns coupled with the Steelers loss, the entire division got a lot tighter. Looking forward at the matchups, how many more victories do the Steelers need in order to secure the AFC North?
Here are the current AFC North standings after Week 12 of the NFL season:
- Pittsburgh 7-3-1
- Baltimore 6-5 (1.5 GB)
- Cincinnati 5-6 (2.5 GB)
- Cleveland 4-6-1 (3 GB)
Starting again with the Cleveland Browns, this team already has as many wins as their last three seasons combined. The Browns still would have to make up four games against the Steelers with only five remaining. So the division is a bit of a long shot, but the Browns are still just 1.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot. The Browns would actually be doing the Steelers a favor if they could take down the Texans in Houston on Sunday even though they are seven-point underdogs.
The Bengals are now 5-6 and seem to be in a lot of trouble after falling by 15 at home to the Browns. Missing A.J. Green the last several games has been devastating, but pile on Andy Dalton going out for the remainder of the season, victories for the Bengals are going to be hard to come by. They are currently a 4.5 point underdog at home to the Broncos this week. Add games against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 14 and in Pittsburgh Week 17, it will be difficult for Cincinnati to make up the three games they would need in order to overtake the Steelers for the division. With another game against the Browns in Cleveland, the only game the Bengals would possibly be favored in would be at home against Oakland in Week 15.
As for Baltimore, after picking up a game on the Steelers with their victory over Oakland, they are currently an even draw in Atlanta on Sunday. A win over the Falcons coupled with the Steelers loss to the Chargers would make the difference in the division less than one game. But if the script was flipped to where the Ravens fell in Atlanta and the Steelers took care of business at home, the division would almost be locked up. Add on the fact the Ravens must go on the road against Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers, this coming Sunday could completely define the AFC North moving forward.
One week later, the magic number for the Steelers to clinch the division is still four. But now the only team in which this number matters is Baltimore. The magic number to eliminate the Bengals is now three while it is just two for the Browns. So with five games left on the schedule, two Steeler victories coupled with two Raven losses would make Pittsburgh the AFC North champions yet again.
At 7-3-1, The Steelers went from dreaming of the top seed in the AFC one week to hoping there’s a chance they have a shot at a first-round bye the next. With the conference standings consistently changing from week to week, the best thing the Steelers can do is take care of their own business one week at a time.