Coming into the season, the AFC North was expected to be one of the league’s more competitive divisions, with the Bengals viewed as the slight favorites and the Ravens and Steelers expected to challenge Cincinnati for the top spot. However, through 10 weeks, the division as a whole has significantly outperformed expectations. Not only are the three aforementioned clubs still in the hunt for the AFC North title, but the upstart Browns are actually leading the way with a 6-3 record.
Of course, while Cleveland may be clinging to the division lead now, the team could also be a week or two away from falling to last place. With the Bengals at 5-3-1 and the Steelers and Ravens both at 6-4, all four teams in the North are separated by just a half-game. As the league noted on the weekend (Twitter link via Aditi Kinkhabwala), it’s the first time since 1935 that every team in an NFL division is at least two games over .500.
With all four teams bunched up and seven weeks still to play, it’s anyone’s division, and there’s no clear-cut favorite to earn a home playoff game. Even Vegas is at a loss when it comes to picking a frontrunner — betting site Bovada.lv gives Baltimore, Cleveland, and Cincinnati equal odds to finish in first place, while Pittsburgh is a very marginal underdog.
The Bengals may have the most challenging remaining schedule, with five of seven contests on the road, including this weekend in New Orleans and Week 17 in Pittsburgh. But each North team has one difficult stretch of games still on its schedule — the Ravens play the Saints, Chargers, and Dolphins following their bye; the Browns host the Colts and have road games in Atlanta, Buffalo, and Baltimore, all difficult places to win; and the Steelers still face the Saints and Chiefs, as well as the Bengals twice.
So what do you think? Will the Bengals repeat as division champs? Will the Ravens or Steelers knock them off? Or will the Browns be this year’s surprise division winner?