With just over a month left of the NFL regular season, every game carries extra significance in the hunt for the playoff spots. The AFC North is proving to be one of the most competitive divisions in football this year, with all four teams still in with a shot to secure a playoff ticket. With five games left to play, we try to predict the final standings.
Baltimore Ravens (8-4)
The Ravens had a chance to give themselves a two-game cushion at the top of the division, but a failed two-point conversion against the Steelers last Sunday means they are still just one game ahead of the Bengals.
This week sees them take on another divisional foe on the road against the Browns, who come rested from their bye week. A stern test then awaits in week 15, when the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers come to Baltimore.
Week 16 sees a potentially deciding game in the fight for the division, with the Bengals looking to pull off the series sweep. Things don’t get easier in the Ravens’ final home game, when they face off with another NFC contender in the LA Rams. They finish the regular season with a rematch with the Steelers, where a revenge of last week’s loss will be high on the wish list for John Harbaugh’s team.
The Ravens are the betting sites’ favourite to reclaim the AFC North title, and three wins against their division rivals should be enough to do the job.
Final prediction: 11-6
Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
The Bengals suffered a big loss to the Chargers last week, with a total of four turnovers crushing any hopes of a comeback. Joe Burrow also has a dislocated finger to tend to, leaving the Bengals’ chances up in the air before the important finish to the season.
The next two games are must-wins before they take on the division-leading Ravens in week 16. The Bengals ran riot in their last meeting, and a similar outcome will put them in the driver’s seat for the division title.
The reigning AFC Champions Chiefs are the final team to visit Paul Brown Stadium in week 17, before a road matchup with the Browns round off the season.
Most likely the Bengals will need four wins to win the division, which might just be one too many to get from a fairly tough schedule.
Final prediction: 10-7
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1)
It has not been pretty this season, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are still hanging around. A divisional title might be a stretch too far after the tie with the Lions, but a wildcard is definitely well within reach.
The schedule however is not on their side, and they are the only team in the division that still has three road games left. Throw in the fact that three of the opponents are (current) division leaders, it certainly looks like an uphill struggle to make it to the playoffs this year for the defending AFC North champs.
Already playing catch-up, the Steelers are looking at three wins minimum to grab at least a wildcard spot. Their next two games will surely make or break their chances.
Final prediction: 7-9-1
Cleveland Browns (6-6)
Many had high hopes for the Browns this season, but injuries and poor quarterback play means they are only at .500 coming off their bye week. Still, a wild card ticket is just one win away – can they pull off a strong finish?
The schedule certainly gives reason for doubt, with the upcoming game against the Ravens already looming as a do-or-die matchup. There is some hope with both Chubb and Hunt back in the mix in the running game, but the question is whether Baker Mayfield can do enough to keep the Browns afloat the rest of the way.
The Browns have plenty of tough opponents to negotiate in the final month, and they have already struggled against the other teams in the division. The Browns are in real danger of finishing last in the AFC North for the first time since 2017.
Final prediction: 7-10