Playoff picture, AFC North: Week 14
AFC North Standings, remaining schedule
Bengals: 8-3-1, vs. PIT, @ CLE, vs. DEN, @ PIT
Ravens: 7-5, @ MIA, vs. JAX, @ HOU, vs. CLE
Steelers: 7-5, @ CIN, @ATL, vs. KC, vs. CIN
Browns: 7-5, vs. IND, vs. CIN, @ CAR, vs. BAL
The Bengals need to go 3-1 to lock up the division. In my opinion, the Bengals aren’t going 3-1. A split with the Steelers is a likely scenario, as well as losing a second game to either DEN or CLE, Denver being the likeliest.
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If the Bengals go 2-2, one of the remaining three AFC North teams need to win out to take the division (assuming no one else ties). Most likely of scenarios would be Cincy splits with PIT, and beat CLE, lose to DEN. By beating PIT and CLE it takes those two out of the division running.
If the Bengals finish 1-3, 10 wins can take the division. Looking at the matchups, who do you think has the best shot at finishing 3-1 to get to 10? The Ravens? I do. PIT could easily lose on the road at ATL or to KC, and one of the CIN games. CLE should lose to IND and one of the division games. The Ravens have the easiest road. Should a playoff berth be on the line for Baltimore in week 17, I love the matchup at home against a young team, that could possibly already have it’s playoff hopes dashed after their best season in a long time. Could be an easy win for Baltimore.
Reasonable predictions: Bengals (10-5-1), Ravens (10-6), Steelers (9-7), Browns (8-8)
Ravens surprise us prediction: Ravens (11-5), Bengals (10-5-1), Steelers (9-7), Browns (8-8)
The question becomes, if the Ravens don’t reel off four wins here, is 10 wins good enough for the WC? Taking a look at the rest of the AFC teams in the hunt and their schedules:
Chargers: 8-4, vs. NE, vs. DEN, @ SF, @ KC. Prediction, 9-7. That’s a gauntlet. They could go winless, or at best a 10-6 record.
Chiefs: 7-5, @AZ, vs. OAK, @ PIT, vs. SD. Prediction, 10-6. If the Chargers happen to make it to 10, owning the H2H tie break with Baltimore then if the Ravens get to 10, then Ravens fans need to look for an upset of the Chiefs in the next three weeks, then a Chargers win, sending them to 9-7.
Bills: 7-5, @ DEN, vs. GB, @ OAK, @ NE. Prediction, 8-8. Nice season Buffalo. The Kansas City Royals of the NFL, in the playoff hunt for the first time in a while, but the clock strikes midnight for Cinderella here.
Dolphins: 7-5, vs. BAL, @ NE, vs. MIN, vs. NYJ. Prediction, 9-7. This looks to be a must win game for Miami this Sunday, allowing for a little room for error when they face the Patriots. If they beat Baltimore, then 10-6 is easy to achieve with two home games at the end against sub par teams. MIA would then too hold the H2H tiebreak over Baltimore for that wild card spot if both finish at 10.
Based on that, I think this Sunday becomes must win for the Ravens to keep hope alive. SD, MIA, KC, and the Ravens have the best shots at getting to 10 wins. It would likely come down to tiebreakers, and the Ravens can’t afford to be on the wrong side of those against two teams.
Let’s look ahead to the action this Sunday in the AFC North.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: CIN -3.5, Sun, 1:00
Cincinnati enters play two games up in the loss column over the field in the AFC North. They escaped with a 14-13 win on the road to the lowly Bucs. Pittsburgh dropped to 7-5 with a home loss to the Saints, 35-32, but the score is not very indicative of how close the game was. New Orleans was in control all day until garbage time.
This is the first matchup between these division rivals this season. Offensively, the Steelers have the advantage in every way. Ben Roethlisberger is better than Andy Dalton. Le’Veon Bell is better than Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Call it a push between Antonio Brown and A.J. Green. Both teams have had decent O-Line play this year, according to PFF. The Steelers also score 26.7 PPG vs. 21.7 PPG by Cincy.
Looking at the defense, Cincinnati doesn’t look impressive either. We complain at times about the lack off a pass rush here by the Ravens. The Bengals have tallied just 15 sacks this season. Less than half as many as the Ravens have (31). Pittsburgh isn’t much better either at just 21 sacks. Steelers DE Cameron Heyward is one of the better pass rushers in the league, though the sack totals aren’t there. He ranks third in hurries among his positon. However, Brett Keisel being out for the season with a torn triceps will weaken the Steelers defense. In the secondary I would give Cincinnati the advantage as George Iloka has played safety at a high level. Leon Hall and Terrance Newman haven’t been bad either.
It’s hard to tell which Bengals team is going to show up from week to week, but the fact is they don’t play well against good teams. They only teams with a winning record they have beat are the Ravens, twice. Ugly games by both teams in each matchup. The Bengals have been shut out by the Colts, and blown out at home to the Browns before reeling off three road wins against sub par teams. I’m not sold.
Prediction: Steelers 31, Bengals 17
Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins: MIA -2.5, Sun 1:00
As I mentioned, this is as close to a must win without it being an elimination game as it gets for both teams. For Miami, New England looms in week 15, meaning they could easily face an 8-8, or 9-7 finish with a loss. For the Ravens, 10 wins is still possible given their remaining schedule, but to not have the H2H tie breaker over Miami or San Diego could spell bad news. The two teams are evenly matched as the Ravens score 27.3 PPG to Miami’s 25.1. On defense, the Ravens allow 20.2 PPG to Miami’s 19.3. Both teams also take care of business against weak opponents, and have held their own against the better teams. Both teams are +3 in turnover margin.
Miami ranks sixth in total defense, and second in pass defense (198.2 passing YPG). This might look daunting, but the Ravens just hung 33 points against the eighth ranked defense in San Diego. They have also gotten Justin Forsett rolling along and Miami ranks all the way down in 21st against the run. Looks like the key to victory here is keep feeding Forsett as much as he can handle.
In the passing game, Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins offense doesn’t utilize a lot of deep balls. In fact, Tannehill throws the least amount of passes 20+ yards down the field. Other QBs with similar numbers are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger. A few of those QBs have had their way with the Ravens secondary this year. Another mismatch? Will Dean Pees finally blitz early and often?
I’m not worried about the Ravens offense being able to get going here like it has in week prior. But the secondary who has resorted to tackling receivers before the ball is thrown as a way to stop them, scares me. They are getting beat, and when DBs get beat, they resort to making contact resulting in penalties. 14 of them last week, and a majority on the defensive side. In what should be a close game, it comes down to little things. Mistakes, clock management, time out usage. The things the Ravens staff stinks at.
Prediction: Dolphins 28, Ravens 27
Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts: IND -4, Sun 1:00
The Colts have the highest scoring offense in the league, and have scored over 40 points on four occasions this year. They have the most yards per game, passing yards per game, and points per game in the NFL. Cleveland counters with a defense that leads the league in INTs with 17. They also hold a +6 turnover margin, versus a -3 for Indy.
Everything leads to picking the high powered offense in any game. But the Browns do have the advantage of playing at home, and they’ll need to try to generate a pass rush (24th in sacks) in order to pressure Andrew Luck into some turnovers and keep this game close.
Let us not forget that we could witness the beginning of the Johnny Manziel era in Cleveland as he came in relief of Brian Hoyer last week and promptly led Cleveland on an 80 yard TD drive, capped off by a 10 yard TD run of his own. There is little to no tape on Manziel as a pro, and Mike Pettine has yet to even say whether he’ll start, meaning the Colts will have to prepare for both. A little gamesmanship by Cleveland.
If Manziel gets the start, it’s worth noting the Colts won both games they faced against scrambling QBs last season, beating Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
Prediction: Colts 27, Browns 23
Other games of note:
Bills @ Broncos, DEN -10, Sun. 4:00
Chiefs @ Cardinals, AZ -1.5, Sun. 4:00
Patriots @ Chargers, NE -4, Sun. 8:30
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]