By Jeremy Hritz
Only two weeks remaining in the 2013 regular season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are more than likely facing a second year in a row without making the playoffs. Without help from the Ravens, Dolphins, Jets, and Chargers, the offseason work to reverse the two-year trend will begin immediately, and the Steelers will look to make the necessary additions to achieve relevancy in 2014.
This past Sunday Night, the Steelers again flashed, at least early on, just what they can do as a team when the play mistake-free, team football. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers came out on fire and easily handled the AFC North leader, causing many black and gold faithful to run through several “what if” scenarios regarding the early losses in the season.
In the game, Andy Dalton started slowly, and his inconsistency surfaced again, resulting in the Bengals falling behind 27-7 at the half. By that time, there were two quarters left to play, the game was salted away, and despite a better second half from Dalton, they could not overcome the initial onslaught from the Steelers. The same questions that have surrounded the Bengals all season were not answered in a way that indicates a successful post-season bid, and it appears they are headed for another one and done if they make it to the postseason.
Elsewhere, the Baltimore Ravens won their fourth game in a row, defeating the Lions in Detroit on Monday Night, 18-16, on a beastly 61-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, who has been uncannily accurate. As a result of the win, the Ravens are right back in the mix for the AFC North title, and by winning their final two contests, they will capture the division once again. To accomplish that, the Ravens will have to beat the Patriots this weekend in Baltimore, a team that they historically have owned, and then close out the season with a victory in Cincinnati.
The Ravens are by no means a flawless team, and if anything, they are average on offense, with an anemic running game and a passing attack that has been uneven. More than anything though, during their four-game win streak, the Ravens have made the plays essential to win, mainly through the clutch play of Joe Flacco, and through a physical defense. Against the Lions, the Baltimore secondary thumped on the elite Calvin Johnson, and you have to wonder if that was the cause of his multiple dropped balls.
The Cleveland Browns dropped another game that they were leading heading into the fourth quarter. In the end, the Bears won 38-31, as the Browns surrendered 21 fourth quarter points and 440 total yards. Josh Gordon’s receiving tear was slowed a bit, though he did record a 43-yard touchdown reception, but otherwise, the Browns offense was ineffective. At 4-10 with games remaining against the Jets and Steelers, another early draft pick is a guarantee.
So while Steelers fans were hopeful at the beginning of the season that the team could somehow reclaim the division title, or as a minimum, earn a Wild Card spot, it appears that 2013 will be a repeat of 2012, with the Ravens and Bengals battling it out for the crown. Unless there is a Pittsburgh miracle waiting to come alive this December, the outcome is frustratingly inevitable.
|2013 AFC North Standings||Week 16 Games||Week 17 Games|
|1. Bengals: 9-5 overall, 2-3 division||Vikings @ Bengals, 1:00 PM||Ravens @ Bengals, 1:00 PM|
|2. Ravens: 8-6 overall, 3-2 division||Browns @ Jets, 1:00 PM||Ravens @ Bengals, 1:00 PM|
|3. Steelers: 6-8 overall, 3-2 division||Patriots @ Ravens, 4:25 PM||Browns @ Steelers, 1:00 PM|
|4. Browns: 4-10 overall, 2-3 division||Steelers @ Packers, 4:25 PM||Browns @ Steelers, 1:00 PM|
|AFC North Statistical Leaders|
|Leading Passer (Yardage)||Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers – 6th in the NFL – 340/525, 3915 yards – 25 TDs, 11 Ints.|
|Leading Rusher (Yardage)||BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals – 22nd in the NFL – 197 carries, 666 yards – 6 TDs|
|Leading receiver (Yardage)||Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns – 1st in the NFL – 74 catches, 1467 yards – 9 TDs|
|Sack Leader||Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens – Tied for 14th in the NFL – 9.5 sacks|
|Interception Leader||Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns – Tied for 3rd in the NFL – 4 interceptions|
|Top Offense||Cincinnati Bengals – 10th in the NFL – 362.4 yards per game|
|Top Defense||Cincinnati Bengals – 6th in the NFL – 318.4 yards per game|
|2013 AFC North Remaining Schedules|
|@ Packers||Vs. Patriots||@ Jets||Vs. Vikings|
|Vs. Browns||@ Bengals||@ Steelers||Vs. Ravens|