The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Who will win the AFC North?
There is no better time to ask this question than right now, I think, because there will not be another point in time in which it is more uncertain. The Baltimore Ravens’ ability to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers on the road puts tremendous pressure on the Steelers to hold serve against at 12-2 New Orleans Saints team away from Heinz Field.
While Pittsburgh still controls its own destiny in terms of winning the AFC North—simply win their last two games—they are about to face arguably their toughest assignment of the season, going into New Orleans and trying to slow down Drew Brees and the Saints offense. While it hasn’t been as potent in recent weeks, they have also been on the road during that stretch and are finally coming home.
If the Steelers beat New Orleans, they have an exceptional chance of winning the division. They would only have to defeat a Cincinnati Bengals team, at home, they is without its quarterback and half a dozen other very important players, to assure division champion status.
Or the Ravens could lose to the Cleveland Browns in the season finale. This would be a necessity if the Steelers can’t beat the Saints, and it’s more realistic for that to happen than for Pittsburgh to lose to the Bengals at home.
Both the Browns and the Ravens are better teams now than when they last met—which was an overtime victory for Cleveland. The Browns are 4-2 in their last six games, and the Ravens now are 5-1 with Lamar Jackson under center.
Both of them have good defenses and good running games, but Baker Mayfield is the better pure quarterback. It should be the most interesting season finale the Browns have been involved in for some years. Even though they are officially eliminated from the postseason, they can still play for their first winning season in a long time.