AFC North Roundup: Steelers vault back into contention


Sunday came and went with far less weather resistance than the previous Sunday. The divisional leaders from Cincinnati “enjoyed” their bye week with some rest & relaxation. However, the stress levels around the Queen City have slightly amped up after the wins on Sunday by both Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The Steelers were dominate on the road in Cleveland, leaving the Browns a bit of a mess and suddenly on the outside looking in to the division. The Ravens, on the other hand, played rugged tough-nose defense, to grind out a relatively easy win over the Jets.

With yesterday’s results, the division is back open for business; still plenty to play for.

Big Winner

For a team that started the season 0-4 and were left by the wayside, the Steelers are back in the mix in the AFC playoff race. They have now won three straight games and five of seven stretching back to their return from London and their bye week. Yesterday in Cleveland, they seized control of the game in the second quarter and never looked back, winning 27-11. The defense has returned to its old glory and has put its team in a position to not only threaten for the wild card, but could easily jump back into the AFC North race at 5-6.

Big Loser

It would be easy to look at the Browns and their current trajectory as the biggest loser in this division. They are getting worse. But, the Bengals saw the exact thing they did want to see yesterday when the Ravens and the surging Steelers each got wins. The Bengals’ lead in the division is now back to just two games with plenty of inter-divisional games still left to play. While you shouldn’t be a loser when you are sitting at home, but Sunday could not have gone much worse for Who Dey nation.

Divisional MVP

Some quality options for this honor, but old-school must rule with the naming of Troy Polamalu as the division’s MVP. The hair was flying, the ball was getting jarred loose and it felt like a time-warp with the play of the legendary safety. Put simply, his performance yesterday in Cleveland was a trademark #43 game. He was a constant nuisance at the line of scrimmage, reverting back to his days of lining up in every possible position on the field. The Steelers put constant pressure on both Jason Campbell and later, Brandon Weeden and Polamalu got himself a sack on a safety blitz. The veteran chipped in with three other tackles and forced two fumbles, as well.

Key Injuries

Brandon Weeden made another appearance for Cleveland after a head injury to the Browns’ Jason Campbell. His neck was snapped back on a third quarter sack.

The Steelers lost a couple players during the win when defensive tackle Steve McClendon left with an ankle injury. In addition, cornerback Curtis Brown left with a knee injury.

Tweet of the Weekend

This was still in play until things finished up in Cleveland, but still an amazing fact!

What It All Means

Things are just getting interesting in the “black and blue” division. With Baltimore and Pittsburgh now both at 5-6 and in prime wild card positioning, there will be no letdown with teams out of contention. Yesterday means the Bengals better be looking over their shoulder as the race for the division crown is far from over.

What’s Next

While the two teams directly below them square off against each other in Baltimore, the Bengals have a holiday week on the beach in San Diego. All eyes will surely be on M&T Stadium with the Steelers in town and a prime chance to inch even closer to the top of the division. The winner of that game will be in the perfect position. The Chargers are coming off a huge road win in Kansas City, so they will give plenty of resistance in front of their home crowd with the Bengals in town. Don’t count the Browns out quite yet, as they welcome in the cellar dwellers from Jacksonville.

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