AFC North Strength of Schedule: Which Team Has the Inside Track to Win the Division At the Halfway Point?
- The AFC North is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL
- The Baltimore Ravens are currently in first place
- The Bengals, Browns, and Steelers each have a path to win the division title in 2021
The AFC North may very well be the best division in football right now. The Baltimore Ravens are in first place, but the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers are right on their heels. All four teams have a legitimate shot at the division title. But which team has the easiest schedule in the second half of the season? Let’s find out.
Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
The Baltimore Ravens are sitting in first place but not by much. They’re 6-2 through the first eight games despite losing several key pieces of their roster along the way.
Baltimore’s two losses were to the Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals. The second half won’t be a cakewalk for John Harbaugh’s squad.
The next two games are potential road trap games against the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears. If the Ravens take care of business, they’ll be at 8-2, heading into a three-game AFC North stretch. Baltimore will face the Browns twice in three weeks.
The Ravens’ second-half schedule also features matchups with the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams and one more tilt against the Steelers and Bengals.
Lamar Jackson is playing like an MVP. However, the Ravens are in a war of attrition, so we’ll see how long they can last.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)
The Cincinnati Bengals are one of the surprise teams of the 2021 season. The return of Joe Burrow from a gruesome injury and the emergence of rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase have done wonders for this team.
This Bengals team has a lot more fight than we’re used to seeing. They’re no longer pushovers. However, after an impressive 5-2 start, Cincinnati has dropped two straight.
Zac Taylor’s team has a tough yet winnable second-half schedule. The Bengals are on their much-needed bye in Week 10. Then, they’ll return with a road game against the Raiders.
The Bengals will welcome two West Coast teams in the LA Chargers and San Francisco 49ers to town in back-to-back weeks. They’ll also meet the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.
Cincinnati will play Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland once more before the year is over as well.
The Bengals have looked fluky the past couple of weeks, so it will be interesting to see if they can turn it around.
Cleveland Browns (5-4)
The Cleveland Browns have been on a roller coaster through the first half of the 2021 season. They’ve lost a few close games but also have couple of convincing wins under their belt.
After parting ways with Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns lit the Bengals up in Week 9 with a 41-16 blowout victory. The star-studded defense played its best game of the season, and Baker Mayfield looked more confident.
We’ll see if Cleveland has turned over a new leaf in the second half. Kevin Stefanski’s unit plays the Ravens twice and the Steelers and Bengals once each.
As for non-divisional games, the Browns will face the Packers, Raiders, New England Patriots, and the lowly Detroit Lions. The latter should be a guaranteed notch in the win column for Cleveland.
The Browns have the talent, but will they live up to it?
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
It looked like it would be a long season for the Pittsburgh Steelers early on. They knocked off the Buffalo Bills in the season opener but lost three consecutive games soon after.
Ben Roethlisberger has shown obvious signs of a decline, and the offensive line is still shaky. However, the defense has helped keep Pittsburgh in games as of late.
Mike Tomlin has rallied the troops, and the Steelers have won four straight. The second half will prove if they can actually contend with the big dogs in the AFC.
Pittsburgh also has the luxury of playing the Lions, but it gets treacherous after that. The Steelers play the Ravens twice. They have one more against Cincinnati and Cleveland.
The Steelers also face the Chargers, Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, and Tennessee Titans. If they make it out of that, they’ll have earned their respect.
AFC North Verdict
The AFC North is a crapshoot at this point. The Ravens have that slim lead, but there’s no margin for error for any of these teams. None of these teams will be able to coast to a division title. Most of the non-divisional games should be competitive.
Ultimately, the divisional matchups in the second half will likely decide the AFC North. Let these teams duke it out for supremacy, and may the best team win.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference