The Pittsburgh Steelers do not play until tomorrow night, but that doesn’t mean that this Sunday afternoon doesn’t have big goings on in the AFC North. While the Baltimore Ravens are on their bye week, both the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are playing 1 PM games, with Cleveland at home and Cincinnati on the road.
The Browns, of course, are the unlikely success story of the division, currently finding themselves with the lead, boasting a 6-3 record. They play host to the Houston Texans, though a depleted unit.
Running back Arian Foster has been ruled out for Houston. He has been primarily responsible for keeping them afloat this year. The Texans have benched Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Ryan Mallett is set to make his first start.
The Browns have had a 10-day rest since demolishing the Bengals on the road on Thursday night, and have been averaging just 11 points allowed per game over the last three weeks, although they’ve just lost nose tackle Phil Taylor for the year.
There are many variables at work of course, and the Browns did lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars after an emotional victory over the Steelers the week before, but they should win this game.
Should they fall, however, a loss would at least temporarily knock them out of first place. More on that later.
The Bengals, meanwhile, have had 10 days to stew over that aforementioned loss, but they have to travel to Louisiana to play the New Orleans Saints. The former Super Bowl team has had a schizophrenic season, but they’ve been much better at home.
The Saints, however, have scored 125 points in four home games, averaging over 31 points per game. They’re 3-1 under the dome with the one loss coming last week against the San Francisco 49ers in which New Orleans committed three turnovers. The Bengals have been reeling a bit, and cold drop this game.
Should both the Browns and the Bengals lose their games, the Steelers, Browns, and Ravens would all be even at 6-4, tied for the division lead by record.
If you want to get into the technicalities of mid-week, mid-season tie-breaking procedures, however, the Ravens would technically lead the division, despite being idle.
In a three-way tie within a division, the first tie-breaking procedure is games against common opponents. The only common opponents all three teams share thus far are each other.
The Browns have gone 1-2 against the Steelers and Ravens, while the Steelers have gone 2-2 against the Ravens and Browns. The Ravens, however, are 2-1 against the Browns and Steelers.
Of course, tie-breaking procedures do not apply until the end of the season, and the Steelers do play this week. Should the Browns and Bengals set them up, Pittsburgh could finish the week leading the division with a victory over the Tennessee Titans on Monday night heading in their bye week.