Despite all the doom-and-gloom heading into the bye weekend, the good news for the Ravens is that they’re still 5-2 and sitting alone atop the AFC North. The Ravens have a two-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers and are looking to win the division in back-to-back seasons for the first time under Head Coach John Harbaugh.
"We’re leading our division; it’s going to be on our shoulders,” Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference.
After sending three teams to the playoffs last season, the AFC North has been down so far this year. The Ravens are the only team with a winning record.
Baltimore still has four games to play against division foes, so the division is still very much up for grabs at this point.
Here’s a closer look at how the other AFC North teams have fared this season:
Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)
The Steelers have struggled through the first seven weeks of the season, but Sunday’s win over the Bengals put them in position to close the standings gap behind the Ravens. If Pittsburgh wins this weekend against the Redskins, then the Ravens will have just a one-game advantage in the division. Part of the reason for the Steelers’ .500 record is that they’ve dealt with a handful of key injuries. Safety Troy Polamalu, linebacker James Harrison and running back Rashard Mendenhall have all missed time with ailments, and Polamalu’s calf problem could be a lingering issue down the stretch. Despite the injuries, the Steelers picked up a big win on the road over the Bengals and showed that they can’t be counted out of the division race. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, the Steelers have plenty of playmakers on offense, which will make them tough to stop in the Weeks 11 and 13 matchups with the Ravens.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)
The Bengals are fighting the perception that last season’s playoff run was a flash in the pan, and they’re trying to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time under Head Coach Marvin Lewis. They are reeling right now, and have lost three straight games – Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Miami – heading into their bye weekend. Quarterback Andy Dalton is having a bit of a sophomore slump and has 10 interceptions on the season. If the Bengals are going to turn around their season, then Dalton needs to improve his level of play. After this week’s bye, the Bengals have a tough stretch of games – Broncos, Giants, at Chiefs – which will likely determine whether they can challenge for a playoff spot and stay in the hunt for an AFC North crown.
Cleveland Browns (1-6)
The Browns are a distant fourth place in the division, and still have plenty of room to grow if they’re going to compete in the division this season. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has been inconsistent and rookie running back Trent Richardson has been hobbled with knee and rib injuries. The Browns have some talent, but they are one of the youngest teams in the league and players like Weeden, Richardson and wide receivers Greg Little and Josh Gordon still need to show they can consistently play at a high level. In addition to their struggles on the field, the entire organization is going through a time of uncertainty because of a change in ownership. As part of the regime change, President Mike Holmgren is on the way out, and General Manager Tom Heckert and Head Coach Pat Shurmur could be next if things don’t improve.