clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Steelers, not the Ravens, predicted to win the AFC North, per ESPN

ESPN Insiders predict every division winner, and they like the Steelers to finish over the Ravens to win the 2016 AFC North crown and punch their ticket to the playoffs.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

With 5 games left on the NFL schedule, the biggest question fans are asking is whether the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens will come out on top in the AFC North. Both teams currently sit at 6-5, but with two very different roads to the finish line.

ESPN Insiders used a number of former coaches, players, front office personnel and calculations to decide which team will win each division in the NFL, and the AFC North was decided by just one game. See how they think the Steelers will come out on top, and why:

AFC North

Currently: Ravens 6-5, Steelers 6-5, Bengals 3-7-1, Browns 0-12

Prediction: Steelers 10-6, Ravens 9-7, Bengals 4-11-1, Browns 0-16

Baltimore's defense is the most reliable force in the division, but the schedule works against the Ravens. They play road games against New England, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. They play at home against surging Miami and talented Philadelphia.

"I like the way Baltimore is playing on defense, but I don't see them with enough on offense to beat out the Steelers down the stretch," one evaluator said Sunday night.

The Steelers made my list of overrated teams heading into the season because Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell projected as higher risks to miss games -- Roethlisberger to injury and Bell to injury/suspension. Roethlisberger has missed just one game this season despite requiring arthroscopic knee surgery last month. His availability down the stretch -- specifically when Baltimore visits Pittsburgh in Week 16 -- is the No. 1 variable.

The Ravens are 4-4 at Pittsburgh in the Joe Flacco era, but that includes only 1-4 when Roethlisberger has been in the lineup. Beating Steelers backups Charlie Batch (2010), Byron Leftwich (2012) and Michael Vick (2015) didn't impress anyone, but the fact that Roethlisberger has missed three of the past eight home games illuminates his availability concerns.

ESPN predicts the Steelers to finish 10-6, and the Ravens 9-7. Will that be enough? Sure, the team running the table and finishing 11-5 would be ideal, but no one in their right mind, and who has watched this football team this season, would go out on such a limb.

Either way, it will be a race to the finish, and with the lone playoff spot for the AFC North being in the form of the division winner, it will make for some exciting television in the coming month. No game looms larger than Baltimore’s visit to Heinz Field on Christmas Day, but fans should remember, a lot can happen between now and then.