Stephen R Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts' AFC North Sniper
I haven’t decided yet if the Ravens’ trip to Houston this Sunday is a legitimate marquee matchup or if it is only marquee by default.
Of course, it looks good on paper. This could be the AFC Championship game, but it’s really only because there are no other real contenders in the conference. We are almost halfway through the NFL’s regular season, and currently the Ravens and Texans are the only two teams in the AFC with a record above .500.
Do I think this shocking display of mediocrity will sustain itself? In short, no. Much to the chagrin of Pete Rozelle’s legacy, we will not get four playoff teams with eight or fewer wins this year. I do, however, think that the Ravens and Texans have such a big lead over the rest of the conference that they may cruise to first-round byes. The only thing is, given the level of play shown by their conference rivals, I can’t decide if Houston and Baltimore are actually good teams. Maybe we’ll get some answers this week.
With that in mind, here are five things to consider as we head into week 7.
1. Joe Flacco’s quarterback rating drops by 44.2 points on the road. The Ravens’ quarterback is currently ranked 10th in the NFL in passer rating. His numbers check out too, as Baltimore is 10th in Real Quarterback Rating and 11th in Offensive Passer Rating. However, much of the success of the Baltimore passing game is experienced in on friendly turf. Currently, Flacco’s rating is an impressive 106.6 at home, versus an abysmal 62.4 on the road.
One would think that Flacco’s road woes would continue this weekend given the state of the Houston defense. After all, even after the Texans’ Sunday night fiasco, the team is still ranked 7th in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating. But consider this: Three of Houston’s five wins came against the 28th, 29th and 31st ranked quarterbacks in the league. After being exposed by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the team responds against another highly ranked quarterback.
2. The Cleveland Browns have lost 10 straight road games. Who woulda thunk after the first couple weeks of the season that when the Colts and Browns played this year, Andrew Luck would be coming off a bad loss and Brandon Weeden a big win. The former looks like the better quarterback, but the latter was the superior player last Sunday.
However, things should be back to normal this week. Luck and the Colts are back home and Weeden and the Browns are leaving the dog pound. Cleveland finally earned its first win of the season on Sunday, but it hasn’t won on the road in well over a year. Ironically, their last road victory came in week 2 of last year at Indianapolis. Of course, at that time, the Colts still employed an injured Peyton Manning, started Kerry Collins’ corpse and Andrew Luck was in the middle of a Heisman campaign at Stanford. Things will be different this weekend.
3. A loss on Sunday puts the Steelers in rare territory. On December 3rd 2006, Pittsburgh beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to bring their record to 5-7 on the year. It was the first game in a stretch that saw Pittsburgh win four of its lats five and finish 8-8. It was also the last time the Steelers were two games below .500.
If the Bengals are to win on Sunday night, Pittsburgh will be two marks below water for the first time in six years. And given the Steelers’ performance in their win against the Eagles two weeks ago, they are lucky to only be this far back right now. However, that’s not to say they can’t rebound against the Bengals this weekend. Cincinnati has its own problems, losing two in a row to rookie quarterbacks and falling to 21st in the Quality Stats Power Rankings.
4. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have the biggest third down success discrepancy between them in the NFL. We all know that games are won and loss based on what teams do on the money downs. The Bengals and Steelers have had, let’s just say, different levels of success converting.
Currently, the Steelers convert 51.95 percent of their third downs - good for first in the league. Meanwhile, the Bengals convert 26.67 percent of their third downs - worst in the NFL. If these trends continue, the Steelers should be able to avoid falling in an unfortunate two-game hole.
5. AFC North Power Rankings as we head into week 7:
1. Baltimore - Not only are the Ravens the best team in the division, they could be the best in the entire conference if they defeat Houston on Sunday.
2. Cincinnati - The Bengals are fading fast, but still have more going for them than the Steelers right now.
3. Pittsburgh - The Steelers are squandering what could be Ben Roethlisberger’s best season.
4. Cleveland - I’m happy that the Browns finally entered the winner’s circle, but they have much to do before they can be taken seriously.