If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to make up ground in the race for the division crown, Sunday might be just about as good a day as any to do so, as all three of their AFC North rivals must face a winning team with at least a 7-5 record.
The Cincinnati Bengals, of course, must face the Steelers themselves. A victory in this matchup would be enormous for Pittsburgh, but a loss could be devastating. It would give the Steelers six losses and the Bengals nine wins. The worst they could finish would be 9-6-1, a winning percentage of .594.
The Steelers, too, don’t seem to be in the best position to contend with one of the conference’s best teams, especially with Ben Roethlisberger’s recent struggles and all of the moving parts and comings and goings on defense, but it is a division game, and those are always difficult to predict.
A victory, of course, would put the Steelers just a half-game behind the Bengals for the division lead, and the two will see each other again, in Pittsburgh, in the season finale. But first, the Bengals would still have to get through the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns, meanwhile, tied with Pittsburgh at 7-5, are at home, but the Indianapolis Colts are coming to town. Roethlisberger may have been able to out-sling Andrew Luck, but who has the faith in Brian Hoyer to do the same? He was at risk of a benching after throwing just one touchdown and six interceptions in the last three games.
Josh Gordon, meanwhile, has not been spectacular, even if he’s put up some yards. Hoyer has targeted him 27 times in his two games back, with the pair hooking up on only 15 passes, including one drop, with three of those passes being intercepted. Cleveland has lost two of its last three games, twice scoring 10 points or less in that span.
The Baltimore Ravens, also tied with the Steelers and Browns at 7-5, are on the road taking on the Miami Dolphins, a newly-minted member of the playoff chase as of last week. Ryan Tannehill has had a solid year, completing 66.5 percent of his passes and throwing for 20 touchdowns against nine interceptions, though he is averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt.
The Ravens secondary, meanwhile, has left much to be desired, relying on an awful lot of unfamiliar names due to the number of injuries they’ve faced. Second-year safety Matt Elam has yet to be the player they’d hoped for.
The Browns and Ravens both have difficult matches ahead of them tomorrow, and both could certainly come out on the short end in these games. All three games involving the AFC North take place at 1 PM, show we should know much more by the late afternoon where the division will be heading in the last three games of the season.