There’s a bit of a big game today in the AFC North between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals, which is shaping up to be a battle for the middle of the pack. The Ravens are reeling with a three-game losing streak and a 4-5 overall record, while the Bengals have been tumbling as well and sporting a 5-4 record. By the end of the day, they could both end up at .500 teams.
Both sides are also dealing with serious injury concerns. The Ravens, for example, don’t even know who they’re going to be starting at quarterback. Joe Flacco did not practice all week, and is listed as doubtful but could still play. And if he doesn’t, they still have to decide between Lamar Jackson, the rookie who missed a day of practice with a stomach issue, and veteran Robert Griffin III. According to Adam Schefter, however, Jackson is expected to start, but we won’t know for sure until kickoff.
On the flip side, the Bengals just put Tyler Kroft on injured reserve and won’t have A.J. Green either. Nick Vigil also remains out, but Vontaze Burfict and Darqueze Dennard have a chance to return. The latter, in fact, ended the week without an injury designation.
Combined, the Bengals and Ravens have lost six of their past eight games, which is impressive considering that both teams were 4-2 or better prior to their recent skids. The Bengals technically are in the driver’s seat for the second Wildcard spot right now, but have the same 5-4 record as the Tennessee Titans going into this week, and the Miami Dolphins are 5-5.
There was some belief that the AFC North would be potentially the best division in football this year, and it did look that way early on even as the Pittsburgh Steelers stumbled out of the blocks to a 1-2-1 start. After three weeks, they were the only division in which no team had a losing record, and had the best overall record.
That’s not necessarily so far from the truth, though. The Cleveland Browns actually do have the best record among those teams who currently sit last in their respective divisions, and no other division’s number three team has a record better than the Ravens’ 4-5. There are even three divisions in which only one team has a winning record at the moment.
The Ravens and Bengals both are teams that are better, in my opinion, than their records, and their current struggles are due at least in part to an accumulation of injuries. Cincinnati may have just fired its defensive coordinator but they’ve been playing without several starters for several weeks.
At the end of the day, we are even going to have a pair of 5-5 teams, creating further separation for the Steelers at the top, or the Ravens will fall to 4-6 and pretty much kill their chances of reaching the postseason, while the Bengals will march to 6-4 and keep fledgling hopes of a division title alive, banking on a season finale in Pittsburgh.