Stephen R Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts' AFC North Sniper
As they say, nothing comes easy in the NFL. The Ravens and Bengals were supposed to show up and win today. They weren't supposed to be in a dog fight. Then again, the Steelers were supposed to experience the same result on Thursday. The Ravens may have won, but Dallas gave every fan in Maryland enough scares to last them through the Halloween season. Cincinnati on the other hand thought it could show up and take care of the winless Browns, but they soon found that they weren’t good enough to get away with a move like that.
At the end of the day, we have a better understanding of the divisional race. Here’s what transpired this week.
1. Ray Rice registered his ninth career multi-touchdown game (Baltimore 31 Dallas 29)
The Ravens got things going again on offense following a touchdown-less outing last weekend. Ray Rice helped carry the load by getting into the end zone twice for the second time this year and ninth time since 2009.
Joe Flacco’s progression is the factor that will ultimately determine Baltimore’s success this season, but the quarterback can’t succeed if his pressure is not alleviated by the running back. If Rice continues to shift and bounce his way to paydirt, he’ll open up the Baltimore passing game.
Speaking of which...
2. Joe Flacco is back in the MVP race.
As bad as he was last week, Flacco returned with gusto on Sunday. The Ravens quarterback completed 65 percent of his passes, averaged a fantastic nine yards per attempt, tossed a touchdown and didn’t turn the ball over.
Dallas’ ineptitude on the final drive may have done them in and given Baltimore the victory, but the Ravens’ offensive stars were great. Baltimore wouldn’t have been in the position they were in without them.
3. The battle of Ohio was a game of firsts. (Cleveland 34 Cincinnati 24)
As I’ve said all year long, the Browns really aren’t all that bad. I mean, take a look at the Quality Stats Power Rankings. They entered this week as the only team without a win, but they were comfortably ahead of four other teams. That will go up this week now that the Browns have gotten off the proverbial snide.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati has lost two in a row following a three-game winning streak. For Andy Dalton, it was his first loss to his in-state rival. I said before the season began that Cincinnati would likely take a big step back after its improbable playoff run last season, and that prediction is looking good thus far.
4. The Steelers may be falling fast in the divisional race.
When Pittsburgh gambled and lost on a game-winning field goal on Thursday, they fell to 2-3 on the season and placed some gigantic seeds of doubt in the collective minds of football analysts across the country. Pittsburgh lost a game they should have won and Baltimore eeked out a win against a team that probably should have beat them. In tight divisional races, these types of weeks can mean everything come December.
Of course, if you look at the numbers, you’ll see that these teams weren’t that close to begin with. Baltimore was ranked sixth in Quality Stats Power Rankings and Pittsburgh was seventeenth heading into week 6. The discrepancy should only grow next week. These two teams still play twice, but it might not even matter. This is the Ravens’ division.
5. AFC North Awards after week 6:
MVP: Ray Rice - Flacco was the choice a few weeks ago, but the more I see the Ravens play the more I change my mind. I’m becoming increasingly convinced this offense would be nowhere without their stud running back.
Offensive Player of the Year: A.J. Green - This isn’t going to change as long as Green continues to put up the stats. I’m certain now that he’s the best wide receiver in the league, at least at the moment.
Defensive Player of the Year: D’Qwell Jackson - He's still killing it in Cleveland. If the Browns start to get some momentum and win more football games, Jackson could get some attention for the award on a national level.
Coach of the Year: John Harbaugh - Marvin Lewis has lost complete control of this award. In fact, even Mike Tomlin's gameday moves have been questionable. Meanwhile, Harbaugh and the Ravens keep trucking, any way they can.