AFC North Week 8: Division gets some much needed shakeup
Stephen R Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts' AFC North Sniper
As the resident AFC North sniper I came to a sad realization last week: the Ravens were going to limp to a division title and their competitors - Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland, in that order - would fall in line. Those thoughts are changing today. For the first time, the Ravens aren’t the runaway favorites in the division. For the first time, the Browns aren’t heading toward an inevitable season-long residence in the basement of the division.
There is some drama. Baltimore is nursing injuries and Cincinnati continues to struggle. Meanwhile, the Steelers put together their best game of the season and the Browns are finally playing as a team. What we thought we knew about this division may not be entirely true.
Here are five points from Sunday’s action.
1. Pittsburgh pounded Washington in every phase of the game.
The Steelers didn't look the part on Sunday. They looked more like they belonged in a Blind Melon video. But man, once they made it on the field, they were fantastic.
Pittsburgh attained more first downs, had a higher third down efficiency, out-gained the Redskins by 100 yards and held onto the ball for seven more minutes. I don’t want to take anything away from Robert Griffin III, but the Steelers showed what a professional team should be able to do against a rookie.
Sunday’s performance was classic Pittsburgh. It was ground and pound. It was hard hitting defense. Old school football won out against the new school style. For the first time all year, the Steelers looked like the Steelers.
2. Ben Roethlisberger was fantastic.
Big Ben’s quietly fantastic season took a bit of a detour in recent weeks, but he got back on track on Sunday. Roethlisberger put up a rating of 121.0 and tossed three touchdown passes in Pittsburgh’s rout of Washington.
As I have stated throughout the season, Ben is having perhaps the best year of his career and is currently one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. His success was quieted mainly due to Pittsburgh’s poor play up until now, but if today serves as the launching point, Roethlisberger may start to get some momentum as an MVP candidate.
3. Cleveland kept San Diego out of the end zone
Say what you want about the Chargers, but they do have a talented offense. Rivers, Gates, Matthews, Floyd - these guys should get into the end zone. It’s a testament to Cleveland’s defense - an underrated unit throughout the season - that the Chargers couldn’t register a touchdown.
The Browns still have a long way to go, but if Weeden and Richardson continue to improve while the defense plays terrific football, no team will want to play Cleveland.
4. John Harbaugh is undefeated coming off a bye week.
The Ravens were still licking their wounds from last Sunday’s beatdown at the hands of Houston as they sat and watched their two divisional rivals pick up victories today.However, they should feel good about their chances as they resume play next weekend.
Much has been made of Andy Reid’s incredible record when the Eagles are coming off a bye (even though he lost in that circumstance today) but Harbaugh has quietly established himself as a guy that can get his team ready to play when they have two weeks to prepare.
5. Power Rankings
Pittsburgh Steelers - They really haven’t played a good game all year, until today. Pittsburgh’s victory over washington was classic Steeler ball and it could get the team going.
Baltimore Ravens - They still have a lead in the division and if they start strong after the bye they’ll be in good shape, but you have to question how well they can hold up after the bye.
Cleveland Browns - With Joe Haden back, this team has a strong defense. With each week, Brandon Weeden - and thus the offense - improves by leaps and bounds.
Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals are continuing their predictable downturn despite having the best wide receiver in the league on its roster. Things will get worse before they get better, but there is enough young talent here to keep the fans optimistic.
Side note: For all the fellow east-coasters out there, stay safe this week.
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