For the record, yes I did say “weak” AFC North. As of right now in 2012, this is not nearly the same division that we saw last year. The defenses are average at best, and while the offenses have potential to be strong they are still inconsistent. More on that shortly.
When it comes to our Steelers in particular, no matter where you look, everyone is questioning what is going on with our beloved Black ‘N Gold. We all have our own thoughts as to why Pittsburgh sits at 2-3 and in 3rd place in the AFC North. If you look back at past Steelers records through the first 6 weeks of the season you can see that normally they are a fast starting team and get a good head of steam going as they enter the midway point of the campaign.
In 2011 they were 4-2 at this juncture. In 2010 they were 5-1, and in 2009 they were again 4-2. Go back a little further to 2008 and it was 5-1; 2007 it was 4-2.
So even if they are 2-3 in 2012 so far, and all 3 defeats have been in the AFC, all hope is not lost. Fortunately for the Steelers this year, the AFC North division is average at best, and Pittsburgh hasn’t even played a division foe yet. That will change on Sunday evening in prime time when they head into Ohio to take on the Bengals. To say this game is a must win is an understatement. Oh sure if they lost they wouldn’t be mathematically out of the playoffs by any stretch yet but their record is bad enough without adding a division loss into the mix.
The best records in the AFC heading into week 7 are held by the Ravens and Texans who are each at 5-1. Houston right now looks strong and is the most complete team in the conference by far. The next best record is 3-3 which is held by a slew of teams which includes the Bengals, Broncos, Chargers, Patriots, Bills, and Dolphins. After that you get into the area where the Steelers fall; they share their win/loss ratio with the Colts. Beyond that you get into the current bottom feeders, record wise in the conference.
So why is this game so important for the Steelers other than the reasons I mentioned earlier? If you want to even sniff the playoffs you need to take care of your wins in the division and win your games at home. If you can do that you normally end up right in the middle of the playoff race. So far both of the Steelers wins have been at Heinz Field, and the 3 losses on the road. After that 26-23 disaster in Tennessee last Thursday night, it’s time to right the ship and get a road win. Beating the Bengals not only brings them to .500 on the season but also puts them in 2nd place behind the Ravens.
Speaking of Baltimore, don’t let their 5-1 record fool you. The injuries to Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis along with a still missing Terrell Suggs have taken a toll on their precious purple defense. They are currently ranked 26th overall in the league in total defense; 22nd vs the pass and 26th vs the run. The Cowboys were able to rush for 227 yds on 42 carries combined, and Tony Romo passed for 261 yds and 2 touchdowns. This is hardly a stellar defense and certainly capable of being beaten by virtually anyone in the league right now. Still they do lead the division right now, but more than ever that seems like a precarious position.
We won’t get into anything substantial with the Browns at this point. They are 1-5, getting their first victory of the season against the Bengals in week 6. They are still a work in progress and shouldn’t be counted on to make any significant playoff run; however don’t count them out as being a spoiler late in the year, you know how these AFC North games can be.
The Bengals at 3-3 lost to those Browns, and are still trying to find their way just like everyone else. Quarterback Andy Dalton has a great rapport with AJ Green this season, as the two have hooked up on 6 touchdowns so far and 628 yds alone. The Bengals have the 4th ranked passing offense in the AFC and the 9th ranked rushing attack. This is a Bengals team that can score points but has trouble stopping opposing offenses. Their defense is ranked 8th in passing and rushing; and in the NFL that’s 17th and 21st overall.
Such is life in the AFC North, every team can score points but nobody can stop anyone else. If the Steelers can take advantage of such a week division, and overall weak conference to date, they can get back on the winning track and put themselves in position for a post season run. Injuries cannot be an excuse for losing games, stringing wins together starts on Sunday night; and anything other than a W in the record column will put this team further in an ever growing hole they may not be able to climb out of.