by Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts' AFC North Sniper
A massive shift at the top of the AFC North has Pittsburgh as the projected champion, despite being a game behind Baltimore in the standings.
The Steelers have played great football in the last few weeks and look as good as any team in the conference, so as we head into the second half of the season it will be interesting to see how well they keep it up.
And as we head into Week 10, here are five things to consider.
1. The Giants have an advantage over the Bengals in virtually every aspect of the game.
This shouldn't come as a shock to most people. The Giants (last Sunday's loss notwithstanding) are one of the best teams in the league and the Bengals haven't won since September. Breaking down the tale of the tape reveals a vast discrepancy in a number of major Quality Stats. The Giants have the advantage in all but two categories, and the biggest disadvantage on Cincinnati’s side appears to be their inability to stop the pass.
Cincinnati’s inability to defend the pass should allow Eli Manning to have one heck of a day on Sunday. Last week, the Bengals held Eli’s older brother in check for most of the first three quarters, but Peyton and the Broncos went off late in the game and handed Cincinnati its fourth straight loss.
The Giants’ passing game is hovering around the center of the league - ranking 12th in Real Quarterback Rating and 17th in Offensive Passer Rating, but they pass the eyeball test. Anyone who follows football knows that Eli and his receivers are capable of going off at any minute, especially late in close games. Meanwhile, the Bengals rank 25th and 28th respectively in each category, meaning it will be hard for them to shut down Manning, Victor Cruz and the rest of New York’s weapons.
2. The Ravens haven’t lost at home in 703 days.
It’s been nearly two years since Pittsburgh beat Baltimore on December 5 2010, giving the Ravens a rare home loss. It hasn’t happened since and, although the team has struggled on the road, Baltimore is still a dominant force at M&T Bank Stadium.
Baltimore has a tough road ahead of itself once it gets past the Raiders. There still have to play the Steelers twice, at the Chargers, at the Redskins and home games against the Broncos and Giants. Given the discrepancy in Joe Flacco’s play at home versus on the road, it is likely that Baltimore will struggle to get past many of those opponents and, even though the Ravens play well at home, it might be difficult to keep up the undefeated record. Basically, the Ravens have to win Sunday to keep pace in the playoff race.
3. The Steelers need one more win to tie the Dolphins as the winningest AFL/AFC team in Monday Night history.
Monday Night Football launched in 1970 - the year of the AFL/NFL merger - and since then Pittsburgh has been one of the more dominant teams in the league on Mondays.
The Steelers lost their most recent Monday-nighter against the 49ers last season, but a victory this week over Kansas City will give them 40 wins all-time. It should happen easily, as Pittsburgh is one of the hottest teams in the NFL and the Chiefs are the worst team in the league.
Pittsburgh leads Kansas City in every quality stat except for Defensive Hog Index and the difference between the two is tremendously high in most categories. Ben Roethlisberger should shine under the Monday night lights, as the Steelers rank fourth and fifth in Real Quarterback Rating and Offensive Passer Rating, respectively, and the Chiefs are last in the league in both categories.
4. The Browns have three wins or less at the nine-game mark for the 11th time in 14 years.
Yes, I think the Browns are improving, but facts are facts. Since returning to the league in 1999, this team simply hasn’t won a lot of football games. In the modern history of the Browns, only three teams have managed to win at least four of their first nine games. This 2-7 team is not one of them.
As Cleveland takes time off during their bye week, the team must keep developing Brandon Weeden as a quarterback. It’s too late for this team to make any kind of run, but they could play spoiler down the stretch as they prepare for next season.
5. Top five players in the division thus far.
I know I have reserved this spot for award winners, but those rarely change. I figured instead I would mix it up. Here are the top five players in the division through nine weeks.
1. Ben Roethlisberger - He’s second in the AFC and fifth in the league in quarterback rating. He’s so far ahead of the rest of the quarterbacks that Andy Dalton - who ranks second in the AFC North - is a good 15 points below him.
2. AJ Green - He’s the best wide receiver in the NFL this year and he’s tops in the division in yards, receptions and touchdowns (a statistic he also leads the league in.)
3. Ray Rice - Despite some early success from Joe Flacco, it’s Rice that is leading this offense. He’s having another great year and is on pace for 1244 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns and 62 catches out of the backfield.
4. Marshal Yanda - If Rice is leading the Ravens offense, Yanda is powering it. He’s been arguably the best guard in football this year and is one of the primary reasons for Rice’s success.
5. Geno Atkins - He helps anchor the Bengals defensive line and is an incredibly effective pass rusher. He is currently on pace for 14 sacks this season and will likely be headed to the Pro Bowl at the end of the year.