We are now 10 weeks into the 2014 NFL season, meaning that, when it comes to the AFC North, it’s already long been a two dog race—wait, what? The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are 1-2 in the division?
That’s right, with all teams having played at least nine games already, the Browns, at 6-3, are the best team right now in the AFC North, having unseated the Bengals on Thursday night with a commanding victory that nonetheless only dropped Cincinnati to 5-3-1.
But the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens are each 6-4 themselves, and still well in the playoff race, not to mention the race for the division crown, which the Steelers have not been able to claim as their own since 2010 when they advanced all the way to the Super Bowl.
It’s not often that every team in a division is within a game of each other this late into the season, and it’s even more rare that that occurs in a winning situation.
According to ESPN’s research, the current standings of the AFC North are about as rare as they get. As a whole, it is the first division in 79 years in which every team was at least two games above .500, when the Western Division accomplished a similar feat in 1935.
And that was with the two top teams in the division coming into the week falling, with the Bengals obviously losing out to the Browns on Thursday night, and the Steelers suffering a disheartening loss to the New York Jets on Sunday.
Yet they remain at 6-4 with a relatively easy schedule ahead, with perhaps only the upcoming games against the Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs offering up, on paper, at least, should be a significant challenge.
But of course we’re also talking about the same team that lost to the Jets on the road, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home, and won a squeaker against the Jacksonville Jaguars until a pick six gave them some separation late.
The aforementioned games, however, will certainly be critical to the future of this season for Pittsburgh. The Chiefs and the Bengals currently hold the fifth and six seeds in the AFC playoff standings as the wildcards.
Of course, they’re not alone. The Ravens are right there as well, and there’s a handful of teams standing at 5-4 who could still move up as the calendar turns to December.
Of course, if the Steelers did what they should have been able to do—which is beat the Jets—they would be standing at 7-3 right now, as the third seed in the playoff chase, instead of the Indianapolis Colts, whom they’ve already beaten, and would be breathing down the necks of the top two seeds as the only other teams in the conference with seven victories.
Instead, we find ourselves pausing in admiration of how tough it’s been to be in the AFC North in 2014, where the Steelers are currently 2-2.