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RealSport Roundtable: Who will win the AFC North?

After having three teams in the playoffs last season, the AFC North has struggled so far this season, with the exception of leaders Cincinnati. So who can win the division?

Cincinnati Bengals

by Remy Cabache

The Bengals have long been regarded as the chokers of the NFL. They have had a very talented roster, with lofty expectations for 4+ years, but have made an occasion of crumbling against the elite teams and failing to impress in primetime, and most notably crashing out of the playoffs in the Wild Card Round. But this year, something feels different.

They are 8-0 and are widely seen as the second best team in the NFL, and you may assume, as it is the Bengals, that they haven’t faced any big tests and their skill players have carried Dalton, but you’d be wrong. They have knocked off the Seahawks, overcoming a 4th quarter deficit, they have won in primetime and Andy Dalton had been at the center of all of this. He is utilizing an immense amount of surrounding talent and he is certainly throwing his name into the hat for the MVP race.

What’s more, the defense has improved from last year. A rejuvenated pass rush – thanks to a fully healthy Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson’s return – combined with a talented and experienced secondary infused with youth has completed this defense, and they have shut down offenses in all phases and forced turnovers.

This combination of factors is way more than any of the other AFC North teams can offer. For the Bengals to miss out on their second AFC North title in three years, an unprecedented collapse has to be on the cards, and with this team, that doesn’t seem likely.

Pittsburgh Steelers

by Edd Hodsdon

Ben Roethlisberger’s injuries could’ve derailed Pittsburgh’s season. Instead, Roethlisberger didn’t miss any time with his second injury and now has a bye week to recover after a strong performance against the Browns.

The Steelers still have one of the league’s best offenses despite losing Le’Veon Bell, with a wide array of receivers and a potent running back in DeAngelo Williams. The defense has also been playing well despite going through some major changes in the offseason. Pittsburgh have managed to shut down potent offenses like Cincinnati and Arizona with young stars like Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt.

Pittsburgh’s remaining schedule is mixed. After the bye they travel to Seattle before hosting Indianapolis, visiting Cincinnati, hosting the Broncos before a road stretch against Baltimore and Cleveland. The Colts will likely be without Andrew Luck. The Seahawks continue to struggle after a poor start. Pittsburgh had the Bengals on the ropes before Bell’s injury, and the Broncos look lost at what to do with Peyton Manning.

It will be a long shot, but the Steelers have a chance to win the division for the second year in a row. With a powerhouse offense around Roethlisberger and an emerging defense, the Steelers have a chance to knock the Bengals down a peg in the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens

by David Venables

Nobody expected the Ravens to have just two wins just past the 50% mark of the season. Many people’s preseason Super Bowl pick have become the after-thoughts in the AFC North, as the Cincinnati Bengals remain unbeaten, and the Pittsburgh Steelers remain competitive as ever. So, what can the Ravens do for the rest of the season to possibly cause the greatest upset in history and make the playoffs?

Well for a start, they pretty much have to go unbeaten for the rest of the season. Sitting at 2-7, even winning out gives them a record of only 9-7. Their schedule is far from easy either, with the Steelers, Bengals, Seahawks and Rams all still to come, plus another game against the Browns, who beat them in Week 5. A realistic aim for this Ravens team would be to finish 6-10, but they would tell you otherwise. Head coach John Harbaugh and senior players such as Jimmy Smith and Justin Forsett have come out and stated that they want to “make history” by qualifying for the postseason.

Supporting that theory is the fact that they have not lost a game by more than 8 points all season long. In fact, every game the Ravens have been involved in has been decided on the final drive. History will tell you that this is the best 2-7 team ever, not that it’s much solace for Ravens fans. With injuries (first round draft pick Breshad Perriman hasn’t played a snap, while both Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith Sr. tore their Achilles) and a tough schedule (5 of their first 7 games on the road), wreaking havoc on the Ravens season so far, they certainly aren’t throwing in the towel. They should be an interesting watch for the rest of the way.

Cleveland Browns

by Charlie Anderson

So I’ve been tasked with the ridiculous feat of working out how the Browns could now win the AFC North.

So they’ve lost to each team in the division, so first of all would have to have a clean-sweep of their remaining games to bring them up to 8-8 on the year. They’d have to get a run game of some sort to complement their awful passing game, led by Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown of all people. But here’s a bunch of ideas I have that are not only more plausible, but might actually put them in the running for first place in their division.

#1: Trade their entire team with the New England Patriots. I don’t care how many 1st round picks you might lose, having Tom Brady AND Belichick in Cleveland might help them

#2: Move to Cincinnati, put black tape across your helmets in tiger-stripes and call yourselves the Bengals; no one would even know.

#3: Give up. Fire another head coach, try again next year and throw Manziel/McCown to the tire fire that is the history of the Browns’ quarterback room.

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RealSport Roundtable: Who will win the AFC North?

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