Baltimore Ravens atop AFC North, the perfect division within the NFL

Going into the 2023 season, predicting that the NFL’s greatest division can be the AFC North was no sizzling take. It was thought of the one division by which all 4 groups had an opportunity to make the playoffs. Final yr, that honor went to the AFC West and the wheels proved to be creaky just a few weeks into the season for each workforce besides the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs. The AFC North seems to have recovered from its early-season stoop. It’s now the one division by which all 4 groups are no less than two video games over .500.

A lot of what had the division on the ropes early this season was damage. None was greater than Joe Burrow’s injured calf. He suffered it the primary week of coaching camp. He missed a number of weeks of observe and the whole preseason. Burrow’s rhythm was clearly off throughout the Cincinnati Bengals’ Week 1 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The next week he re-aggravated the damage as Cincy fell to 0-2 with a loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

They struggled for 2 extra weeks, getting into the Week 5 recreation in opposition to the Arizona Cardinals 1-3. That was the week that the wheels began to show for Burrow. He was in a position to get out of the pocket and purchase time together with his legs. They gained their subsequent two video games and since their Week 7 bye, Burrow has performed like among the best quarterbacks within the NFL in opposition to two groups with Tremendous Bowl aspirations.

The Bengals beat the San Francisco 49ers on the street by 14 factors. On Sunday evening, Burrow and the Bengals offense ran the ultimate three and a half minutes off of the clock to defeat the Buffalo Payments, 24-18 and transfer to 5-3 on the season. Burrow accomplished at least 70 % of his passes in each victories, threw no interceptions, and these are his solely video games of the season by which he has averaged higher than seven yards per completion. One other late-season begin, and as soon as once more the Bengals seem like among the best groups within the league.

Each the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers are additionally 5-3, and handled their very own quarterback points. Nevertheless, they presently don’t have the luxurious of merely ready for his or her beginning QBs to return to well being. Kenny Pickett and Deshaun Watson have each missed time, and have additionally been unimpressive all through the season.

On protection although, each of those groups current severe issues for opponents. Veteran standout defensive lineman Cam Heyward returned to the Steelers lineup after lacking seven weeks with a core muscle damage that required surgical procedure. Upon his return, Pittsburgh put a fast finish to the Will Levis present with a 20-16 win in opposition to the Tennessee Titans. Pickett had a pedestrian recreation behind heart, however they’ve sufficient skill-position expertise with George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, and Jaylen Warren to accompany a rock strong protection.

The Steelers even have division wins of their again pocket in opposition to the Ravens and Browns, respectively. They knocked off the Browns in a recreation by which Watson was wholesome. As nice as Cleveland’s protection has performed, Watson’s struggles and accidents have resulted in essentially the most unbalanced workforce within the NFL. The Browns entered Week 9 ranked second in Defensive DVOA and twenty eighth in Offensive.

Watson returned Sunday and performed properly in opposition to the Cardinals — who’ve one of many league’s worst defenses and traded their beginning quarterback 5 days earlier than the sport. The Browns’ subsequent two video games are rematches in opposition to the Steelers and Ravens. They misplaced to each groups of their first conferences this season. After that, their schedule eases up with the Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars as the one different playoff caliber groups remaining on it.

The cream of the crop within the North is by far the Ravens. At their greatest, they’re unstoppable on each side of the ball. They entered Week 8 as a top-five unit on each offense and protection — per DVOA.

Two NFC contenders have come to Baltimore within the final three weeks, and each had been housed. The Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks each misplaced by 30-plus at M&T Financial institution Stadium. When the Ravens are cooking, they’ll rapidly flip an opponent into pit beef.

Their downside lies when the sport continues to be up for grabs after halftime. In Week 8, they gave up 17 fourth-quarter factors to the Cardinals in a 31-24 victory. Harm woes damage them early within the season in losses to the Steelers and Indianapolis Colts, however they had been forward late in each video games. They only weren’t in a position to end the sport, and largely as a result of their offensive play calling was too conservative.

Not counting J.Okay. Dobbins’ achilles damage, on the midway level of this season the Ravens are more healthy than they’ve been in years. They’re additionally tied with the Chiefs for the perfect document within the convention — per successful proportion, the Chiefs have performed and misplaced extra video games. With a number of divisional battles remaining, in addition to a troublesome three-game stretch in December that features consecutive street video games in opposition to the Jaguars and 49ers, the Ravens comply with that with a house recreation in opposition to the Miami Dolphins.

They need to have the ability to end the season as AFC North Champions, however provided that they begin closing out video games when not up by 30 factors.

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