AFC North Playoff Picture

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AFC North Playoff Picture

Fired coaches abound in a fired-up battleground of a division

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1)

After a shaky 1-2-1 start, several doubts were looming over the Steelers’ heads, such as the absence of All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, the performance of the aging quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the prevailing belief that head coach Mike Tomlin had “lost” control of the team. However, these questions have fizzled out over the course of the Steelers’ current five-game winning streak. Their fifth victory, a 52-21 blowout of the Carolina Panthers, was the most dominant Pittsburgh has looked all season, from scoring two first-quarter touchdowns in 13 seconds to Roethlisberger’s five total touchdowns and perfect passer rating of 158.3. The team sits atop the AFC North and holds the number two seed in the AFC, but it has a brutal schedule ahead, with three of its remaining games being against the incredibly strong Chargers, Saints, and Patriots. If Pittsburgh can continue to play the way they did against the Panthers, though, they will have a strong chance at the division title.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)

The team’s winning record doesn’t quite convey that the Bengals’ defense is having a bad season. And that’s putting it mildly. They’re 31st in the league in scoring and run defense, and last in passing defense and total defense. They’ve allowed at least 500 yards per game in the past three games, becoming the first team to do so in the Super Bowl era. Hours after being pummeled by the New Orleans Saints in a 51-14 loss, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired. The Bengals aren’t out of a playoff shot just yet; they have a good amount of winnable games left, but a major defensive shift needs to happen for them to make a postseason run.

Baltimore Ravens (4-5)

Reports of head coach John Harbaugh’s possible firing after the season was just the most recent indication that the Ravens’ future is up in the air. During their bye this week, it was revealed that quarterback Joe Flacco had a hip injury that could potentially sideline him for their upcoming matchup against the Bengals, if not longer. The team still boasts a dominant defense, but it’s unclear if that will be enough to outweigh the struggling offense and carry Baltimore to the playoffs.

Cleveland Browns (3-6-1)

Following a four-game losing streak, the then-2-5-1 team fired both head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and they’re already seeing results. Their recent decisive win over the Atlanta Falcons showed some promise for the struggling franchise, with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield’s three touchdown performance and rookie running back Nick Chubb’s 92-yard touchdown run among the highlights. In the past two games, interim head coach Gregg Williams has one win, the same amount Jackson had in his first two seasons with the Browns. It’s highly unlikely that the Browns will make the playoffs this year, but it seems that the team is finally going through a period of growth.

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