And down the stretch they come. The Ravens and Steelers battling for the AFC North division title in a two-team division.
While the Ravens were handing the Bengals their weekly loss, the Steelers got a big win at New England to maintain a one-game lead in the North.
The Steelers and the Ravens at the top of the North doesn't qualify as breaking news – since the Ravens came into the league in 1996, the Bengals have had only one winning season. Cleveland hasn't done much better in their 10 seasons since their return to the NFL – they've gone 54-102 with only two winning years.
So what we have here is a four-team division with two legit teams. The Ravens and Steelers have each won a Super Bowl in the new millennium, and for the most part, they are solid contenders year in and year out.
What looked like a rebuilding year in Baltimore has turned into anything but. The Ravens defense is as nasty as ever. Ask the Bengals who had 11 punts and only six first downs in the Ravens' 34-3 win.
Joe Flacco continues to do amazing things in his rookie season. He's helped lead the Ravens to six wins in their last seven games, and in those six wins, Joe Cool hasn't thrown a single interception!
That's quite a feat for a nine-year veteran and close to impossible for a guy who's played 12 NFL games. Even more amazing, the NFL's other rookie QB – the Falcons' Matt Ryan also hasn't thrown a pick in Atlanta's last six wins. Somebody please tell me the last time two rookies have done that.
Mark Clayton, take a bow for your career day in Cincinnati. Nearly 200 yards combined receiving and passing, two touchdowns, and how 'bout that Velcro TD grab. I know, Donovan McNabb threw four TD passes, and DeAngelo Williams ran for four (all from one-yard out) but my game ball goes to No. 89, who's had a big November.
Being a No. 1 draft pick is financially rewarding, but not always easy to live up to.
Clayton has struggled with injuries and ineffective play at times during his first four seasons, but now the Ravens may be finally getting the guy they thought they drafted in 2005.
So the guys in purple are 8-4 with three of their last four at M&T Bank. The Ravens will finish this improbable season against four quality opponents. The rookie head coach, with the rookie quarterback behind the young offensive line and the usual nasty Ravens defense.
Who knows where it goes from here, but I wouldn't miss it.
Consider This: The Ravens have a better record than three of the final four from last season (Packers 5-7, Patriots 7-5 and Chargers 4-8).
What's wrong with this: The Ravens are in their 13th season, and Sunday will be the first time their Redskins neighbors of some 30 miles have come to Baltimore for a game that counts.
Bet on it: Baltimore's Marching Ravens won't welcome the Washington opponents with a rendition of "Hail to the Redskins."
Worst to Better: The Dolphins' turnaround from 1-15 to 7-5 might match the 1992 Indy Colts who turned 1-15 into 9-7. How 'bout the 1999 Colts, after Peyton Manning went 3-13 as a rookie, the Colts made a 10-game improvement flipping to 13-3.
3 and out!
Long-time and respected broadcast journalist Scott Garceau has covered Baltimore sports, including all of its pro football teams, for the last 30 years. Scott, who was the radio voice of Ravens football for the team's first 10 seasons (1996-2005), is a seven-time Maryland Sportscaster of the Year. Garceau is also honored as Baltimore's Pro Football Hall of Fame selector/voter. A native of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, where he is a member of the area Hall of Fame, Scott has covered the NFL since 1971.