The Ravens are used to this claustrophobia.
No matter how properly they play — and that’s higher than every other group within the NFL of late — they can’t break away from their three AFC North neighbors, all of whom would make the playoffs if the season ended now.
“When you see how the division is stacked up now, it’s like you have no room to breathe,” linebacker Patrick Queen mentioned.
“It would be just terrible if everybody was not a good team in our division,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh mentioned, drawing laughs along with his light sarcasm. “That’s my best answer. We respect these teams. This is a great division. There’s no doubt it’s the best division, it’s proven. We know the teams; these teams are real. When you’re in this division, you have to play them twice a year, you understand them. It’s not just this year.”
The division despatched a number of groups to the postseason every of the previous three years, peaking with three entrants in 2020, and the North is now threatening to freeze each different division out of the wild-card race.
The Ravens maintain a 1 1/2 recreation lead and have been the very best of the bunch by nearly any measure over the primary 9 weeks. They gained in Cincinnati and Cleveland and would have in Pittsburgh had their receivers not abruptly misplaced the flexibility to carry onto landing passes. Their level differential is greater than double that of any AFC North rival.
But they know that as they put together to start their second tour of the division by internet hosting the Browns and Bengals in a four-day span, one slip-up would convey them proper again to the gnawing pack.
With that in thoughts, let’s have a look at the strengths, weaknesses and future prospects of every division rival.
Record: 5-3 (1-2 division, 3-2 convention)
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: eighth (twenty eighth offense, 1st protection, eleventh particular groups)
Best win: The Browns opened their season by destroying the defending AFC North champion Bengals, 24-3. Their protection was horrifying, holding Cincinnati to 2.6 yards per play as a hobbled Joe Burrow accomplished simply 14 of 31 passes and transformed on two of 15 third downs.
Worst loss: The Browns forfeited any likelihood to defeat the Ravens when rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson stepped in on the final minute for injured quarterback Deshaun Watson. Four sacks, three interceptions and an environment friendly outing from Lamar Jackson later, the Ravens left Cleveland with a 28-3 victory.
Team power: It could be tough to discover a extra apparent reply than the Browns’ protection, which ranks first in DVOA towards each the cross and run. Coordinator Jim Schwartz’s aggressive demeanor suits this proficient group, which has allowed a measly 84.8 passing yards per recreation at dwelling.
Team weak spot: The Browns haven’t been in a position to depend on Watson, who has missed three video games due to a shoulder damage and has but to appear like the celebrity from 2020 who impressed Cleveland to pony up $230 million assured. They’re higher (4-1) with him than with P.J. Walker or Thompson-Robinson, however their offensive upside is sketchy.
MVP candidate: Myles Garrett (9 1/2 sacks, 18 quarterback hits) is the favourite for NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the unquestioned star of a gaggle that’s carrying the Browns. The Ravens felt like they did a very good job blocking him within the first matchup, and he nonetheless completed with a sack, two quarterback hits and two hurries.
Strength of schedule: The Browns don’t have a straightforward street forward with the Twelfth-most tough schedule by DVOA, however after they play the Ravens on Sunday, they are going to have confronted the harder half of their slate. They’ll host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 10 and end with a date in Cincinnati, however their protection ought to feast on an inventory of underwhelming offenses lowlighted by the Chicago Bears and New York Jets.
Synopsis: The Browns’ upside as a Super Bowl contender took a extreme hit when their finest offensive participant, operating again Nick Chubb, suffered a season-ending knee damage. Watson’s shoulder ache left them with one of many league’s worst offenses, however their protection is such a potent anchor that they’re in wonderful place, with a 62% likelihood to make the playoffs, in response to each The New York Times’ projection system and Aaron Schatz’s DVOA featured on FTN Fantasy.
Record: 5-3 (0-2 division, 1-3 convention)
DVOA: eleventh (eleventh offense, eleventh protection, sixth particular groups)
Best win: With their season in limbo at 3-3 and uncertainty lingering over the state of Burrow’s calf, the Bengals outclassed the 49ers in San Francisco two days earlier than Halloween. Cincinnati by no means trailed as Burrow delivered a classic efficiency — 28 of 32 for 283 yards and three touchdowns — towards one of the proficient defenses within the sport.
Worst loss: At least the Bengals’ opening loss got here towards Cleveland’s mighty protection. What was their excuse for a 27-3 shellacking by the hands of the deeply mediocre Tennessee Titans? That Oct. 1 loss, by which the Bengals gave up 400 yards and Burrow didn’t full a cross longer than 17 yards, dropped them to 1-3 and raised momentary fears of a wasted 12 months.
Team power: The Bengals’ season statistics are nonetheless weighed down by these dreadful performances within the first month, however Burrow and his elite cross catchers have returned to type in victories over the 49ers and Buffalo Bills.
Team weak spot: The Bengals can’t cease the run, a flaw that would undo them towards road-grading opponents such because the Browns and Ravens, who rolled up 206 and 178 yards, respectively, in defeating Cincinnati. Opponents have averaged 5 yards per carry towards coordinator Lou Anarumo’s protection, which is weak at linebacker and security.
MVP candidate: It’s a boring reply, but when the Bengals storm again to the highest of the AFC North as they did after a gradual begin final season, Burrow would be the cause. They weren’t proper when his calf wasn’t proper.
Strength of schedule: The Bengals have probably the most tough remaining schedule within the league, one spot above the Ravens, by DVOA. Besides their Thursday evening journey to Baltimore, they are going to host the Browns, face the Steelers twice and journey to Jacksonville and Kansas City to play division leaders.
Synopsis: The Bengals proved final 12 months they may overcome a messy begin to make a deep playoff run and seem on observe for one more in-season restoration. Their protection is nothing particular in contrast with the Browns or the Ravens, however a wholesome Burrow is likely one of the scariest opponents within the league. The New York Times places their likelihood to make the playoffs at 69%, whereas Schatz’s DVOA has them at 59.4%.
Record: 5-3 (2-0 division, 4-2 convention)
DVOA: 14th (18th offense, seventh protection, twentieth particular groups)
Best win: The Steelers hold round, ready for opponents to make errors and for his or her sputtering offense to kick in on just a few late drives. They rode this components to an Oct. 8 victory over the Ravens in what simply might have been a blowout the opposite method. Never doubt coach Mike Tomlin’s skill to stay in a recreation or a playoff race.
Worst loss: The week earlier than they beat the Ravens, the Steelers traveled to Houston and had been by no means within the recreation as Texans rookie C.J. Stroud lit them up for 306 passing yards and two touchdowns in a 30-6 shocker.
Team power: The Steelers nonetheless get to opposing quarterbacks, a trait that may solely be magnified with defensive finish Cameron Heyward again from a groin damage. They rank third in blitz price and sixth in stress price. T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith make life depressing for opposing tackles. The pair mixed for 3 sacks, two passes defended and a pressured fumble towards the Ravens.
Team weak spot: Who on Pittsburgh’s offense makes opposing coordinators nervous? Not quarterback Kenny Pickett, who’s thrown six landing passes and 4 interceptions. Not operating again Najee Harris, who’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Maybe huge receiver George Pickens, however he has expressed frustration after catching three passes over the previous two video games.
MVP candidate: Watt (9 1/2 sacks, 18 quarterback hits, six passes defended, two pressured fumbles) sits behind Garrett within the edge rusher energy rankings, however not far behind. He’s able to turning any recreation with a single transfer.
Strength of schedule: The Steelers have the Tenth-hardest remaining schedule by DVOA. They’ll end the season in Baltimore and nonetheless have two conferences with the Bengals together with a visit to Cleveland. Otherwise, a New Year’s Eve recreation in Seattle is their most tough piece of unfinished enterprise.
Synopsis: The Steelers put themselves in place to chase a playoff berth with shut wins over the Ravens and Browns however nonetheless should take their unremarkable offense to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore. Their minus-30 level differential is the worst within the division, and The New York Times places their likelihood to make the postseason at 44%, whereas Schatz’s DVOA has them at 54%.