As this wacky NFL season has had ups and downs and surprise first place teams, the AFC North is taking on an all too familiar theme. It’s come down to the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers as it has much of the last decade. Yet just as we described in our Pre-Season spectacular, this is the last year these two teams will be head and shoulders above their division brethren.
On Thursday night, NFL network is going to showcase one of the league’s best defensive players in D’Quell Jackson, who in our estimation is the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Right now he’s tied for second in tackles with 112, with 2.5 sacks, 4 passes defensed an interception and 2 fumble recoveries. Of the top 5 tacklers in the NFL this year he has more than 15 more solo tackles than the others, showcasing he is the initial defender to the ball. Oh we forgot to tell you, he plays for the Cleveland Browns. He is the anchor of the league’s #8 defense. What would he be doing had the Browns been able to field a healthy Peyton Hillis and were able to get adequate quarterbacking from Colt McCoy?? If next year the Browns can get an Andrew Luck, or Kellen Moore, or Baylor’s Robert Griffin III this could be a turnaround team for 2012.
As for now they’re still looking up at the neighborhood bully from Pittsburgh. After losing to the Texans, the Steelers have won 7 of their last 8 including a 25-17 win over AFC East leader New England. Unlike the beginning of the season where they had lost to teams with winning records, they also bested Cincinnati twice to take the division lead. The Ravens are ahead of them on a tie breaker but face it, as we head through the money games of November, the Steelers defense has come to life and the last two games didn’t allow 10 points in either contest. Experts, including our CEO, are waiting for this elder defense to age. Yet as we go to press guess who is back at the top spot with the league’s #1 defense. Yet lets take a look at the standings
The Steelers host Cleveland this Thursday Night in what should be a good defensive struggle. If you expect Pittsburgh to run over the Browns you will be shocked to see Jackson #52 making life miserable for Rashard Mendenhall. Truth be told the Steelers are a passing team. Granted they use the run to set up the pass however more and more they rely on Ben Roethlisberger to make a play on 3rd down to sustain drives. Mendenhall has rushed for 634 yards and 8 TDs and isn’t among the league’s elite in terms of rushing output. Right now they have to ride the wildcard that is Big Ben. He’s on pace to finish with 25TDs and 4,328 yards and only 13 interceptions. His frantic helter skelter comebacks are rarely artistic but they’re more successful than not. Normally there should be an air of worry with the Steelers leading tacklers being Palamalu and Ryan Clark, but that has more to do with they have started every game. Where James Farrior, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Larry Foote have each missed at least two games due to injury. They are coming back healthy for the playoffs and that is scary for most teams.
The Ravens have the tie breaker having swept their nemesis in Pittsburgh, yet have 4 interesting games coming up. All season long this team has played up to and beat top competition, then down to and lost to lowly teams like Jacksonville and Seattle. Joe Flacco has been playing better as of late and has matured from that last second touchdown throw in the Steelers game. Coach Harbaugh hopes that is all behind them with the Colts, Chargers, Bengals, and Browns lining up to play spoiler. The Ravens have maintained a menacing defense, currently ranked 3rd overall, without the services of Ray Lewis. In their last two games without Lewis they have given up only 170 yards to the 49ers, and 233 yards to the Browns respectively. On offense Ray Rice is about to cross the 1,000 yard threshold with 926 yards and 9 TDs, yet it’s Ricky Williams who seems to have fresh legs and is rejuvenated in Baltimore.
The stat that jumps out is Baltimore is 6-1 against teams with winning records. If they run the table in these last four games you’d have to say they are a shoo in for the AFC Championship game. With Ray Lewis healthy for the playoffs what do you think?? Could the Ravens best a Steelers team for a third time if they met in the playoffs?? Interesting questions that we’ll have to wait for an answer.
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