The AFC North, at least through the first half of the 2021 season, has cemented itself as one of the top divisions in football, if not the division at the very top. No team in the division has a losing record, and three teams have a winning record. They are collectively 15-8 against inter-divisional opponents. Winning it won’t be easy this year.
And the Pittsburgh Steelers are at the bottom right now, sitting at 3-3, though they did perhaps get some help yesterday when the 4-2 Cincinnati Bengals knocked out the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens, leaving them now both at 5-2, and Pittsburgh now one game behind in the loss column.
The Steelers can do themselves a big favor next week by taking advantage of the Cleveland Browns’ ailments and notching a road win against the 4-3 team. But that won’t be easy at all, especially if they get running back Nick Chubb back, which seems likely.
“It’s gonna be a challenge for us, especially to try and get ahead in the division”, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said last week about the task of taking down the Browns, via transcript. “Our division is not a bunch of chumps. It’s a pretty good division. And whoever goes to the playoffs out of the division is gonna be pretty good”.
The AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs already last year. It’s not entirely unrealistic that they actually send four teams to the playoffs in 2021, though when looking at it objectively, the Steelers may be the team that has the hardest time getting there.
Pittsburgh won the division last year with a 12-4 record, but both the Ravens and the Browns qualified as Wild Card teams. Right now, the Bengals are leading the division, with the Ravens and Browns positioned for Wild Card berths. The 4-2 Los Angeles Chargers will be the roadblock to a divisional postseason sweep for the North.
And one wonders where they will stand by season’s end. With now four teams who are capable of being legitimately competitive on any given day, chances are good these rivals are going to knock themselves around a fair bit. It’s doubtful anybody goes 5-1 in the division this year, let alone 6-0, though the Bengals are already off to a good start at 2-0 with wins over the Steelers and Ravens.
Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Browns will be the third intradivisional game of the season. The first two pretty much ended in blowouts in Cincinnati’s favor. I imagine this one will be much more competitive, however.