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AFC North Comes Down to This

steelers v bengals

The Steelers and Bengals collide with a playoff spot on the line.

Two games. Just two games left in the 2012 National Football League season and for the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers it all comes down to this. Both the division title and the final (more than likely) wild-card spot will be decided as early as today and certainly by the end of next week.

The scenarios are simple for each…

Baltimore is in the playoffs. A win in either of the final two games (NYG, @CIN) will give them the division title. Should they lose both, the division could go to either Cincy or Pittsburgh or either wins their final two games.

Cincinnati can clinch a playoff spot by beating Pittsburgh today and can win the division with another win over Baltimore next week if the Ravens lose to the NYG today.

Pittsburgh cannot clinch a spot today. They must defeat the Bengals and then beat Cleveland next week. Should the Ravens lose twice, they would tie for the top spot, but the lose the division on the conference record tie-breaker.

The Standings: Baltimore 9-5, Cincinnati 8-6, Pittsburgh 7-7, Cleveland 5-9

The games this week:

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Pittsburgh – These are two very different teams than the ones who met back in October in Cincinnati where the Steelers won 24-17. The Bengals have had a great second half of the season and are one point away from being on a six-game winning streak. The Steelers have struggled losing four of their last five including a difficult overtime loss in Dallas last week.

The Steelers have the number one defense in the league and are first against the pass, but they are near the bottom in takeaways and eight other teams do better at allowing points then they do. Their success will of course depend on stopping the run, but they must get pressure on Andy Dalton and force mistakes the way the Eagles did last week. If they can’t, their already injured secondary will be in serious trouble.

The Bengals’ defense will gladly take the miscues and turnovers the Steelers have made in recent weeks. Pittsburgh’s running game has dipped to 26th in the league and that means more pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. This Steelers’ team has issues and I can’t see them putting together a good enough effort even at home to win. I like the Bengals to win outright.

Trent Richardson

Richardson and the Browns invade Denver toaday.

Cleveland (+13) at Denver – The Broncos are coming off a big road win in Baltimore and are in the playoffs. Normally this would be a good spot for a let-down but I’m not buying it with Peyton Manning at the helm in Denver. Cleveland had been on a nice little streak there before getting beat up by the Redskins and rookie QB Kirk Cousins.

The Broncos have won nine straight games and are 5-1 at home. Cleveland is 1-5 on the road and will be going into a crazy environment in Denver. I think the Browns stay close in the first half and then the Broncos get it going to cover.

New York Giants (-3) at Baltimore – Both teams are coming off of humiliating losses in which their offenses were bad and their defenses were worse. The Ravens are 5-2 at home but have lost two straight after winning their previous 15. The G-Men are 3-4 on the road in 2012. This is normally the time of year where Tom Coughlin and his crew start to kick it into high-gear and today will be an indicator of whether that is happening or not.

The Ravens made a change at the offensive coordinator position and it did nothing to change their fortunes. There was discussion of a near-mutiny on John Harbaugh in recent weeks and Joe Flacco has contract talks hanging over his head in the off-season. Baltimore will get Ray Lewis back today and that will help but how much is uncertain. If the Giants can give Eli Manning time he should have his way with a poor Ravens’ secondary. I like the Giants to go on the road and cover today.


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