How Every AFC North Team Can Still Win the Division
The AFC North is the most crowded division in the NFL right now. With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Cincinnati Bengals are in first place with a 9-6 record. However, the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cleveland Browns have a legitimate shot at winning the division.
The 2021 season has featured more parity than any other season in recent memory, so anything could happen. Let’s look at how every AFC North team can win the division heading into Week 17.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
The Cincinnati Bengals notched another statement victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16. Led by a historic performance by Joe Burrow, Cincinnati routed Baltimore 41-21.
At 9-6, the Bengals control their own destiny. Their last two games are against the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns in Weeks 17 and 18.
Zac Taylor’s squad can lock up the AFC North with a win over the Chiefs. Even if they lose to Patrick Mahomes and company, the Bengals can still win the division if they knock off the Browns in the season finale.
The third and final way Cincinnati can win the division is for the Browns, Ravens, and Steelers to each lose one more game.
The Bengals are in the driver’s seat, but this is far from a done deal.
Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
The Baltimore Ravens are in second place in the AFC North with an 8-7 record. Just a few weeks ago, John Harbaugh’s crew was the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Now, the Ravens are on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
Availability has been the story of the 2021 season for Baltimore. Injuries ravaged the locker room throughout, and Lamar Jackson has missed three games. The Ravens are lucky to even be in this position.
Baltimore’s remaining games are back-to-back home dates with the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the Ravens to win the division, they must first win both games. They would also need the Bengals to lose to the Chiefs and Browns.
If Baltimore loses to the Rams in Week 17, they can kiss their chances at an AFC North title goodbye. However, this team would still be a longshot to make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a disappointment in 2021. It’s been an up-and-down campaign, but their struggles have outweighed the bright spots.
In what could be Ben Roethlisberger’s last ride in Pittsburgh, the Steelers could want to send him off on a high note. But how exactly can Mike Tomlin’s squad still win the AFC North?
Well, for starters, the Steelers need to win out. Their final two games are home against the Browns and on the road against the Ravens to close out the season. They’ve already beaten both teams, so that’s not out of the realm of possibilities.
Pittsburgh would also need Cincinnati to lose to Kansas City and Cleveland. At this point, the Steelers probably have a better chance at securing a wild-card spot, even though they’ll still need help for that to happen.
Crazier things have happened, but winning the division title will be an uphill battle for Pittsburgh.
Cleveland Browns (7-8)
The Cleveland Browns are in last place in the AFC North with a 7-8 record. They entered the 2021 season with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. However, Cleveland has undoubtedly underachieved.
The Browns need the most stars to align for them to win the division. The first order of business is winning the last two regular-season contests. They have matchups coming up against the Steelers on the road and at home against the Bengals. With both games being divisional matchups, Kevin Stefanski and company can make up ground.
Even if Cleveland wins out, it would need some assistance. Cincinnati would need to lose out, and Baltimore would need to lose one of its final two games.
The Browns shot themselves in the foot, losing a couple of games they probably should’ve won. Now their fate rests in the hands of their rivals.
Considering the state of the AFC North, anything is possible.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference