The Ravens look poised to win AFC North after win over Bengals on TNF
The Ravens defeated the Bengals by a score of 34-20 at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday Night Football.
The victory improved Baltimore’s record to 8-3–including 3-2 in the AFC North Division. Meanwhile, the Bengals dropped to 5-5 on the year and are 0-3 in the division.
After starting the season 1-3, Cincinnati looked to be back to its old self after winning four-straight games–including impressive victories over the 49ers and Bills–but then fell at home to the Texans last Sunday. The back-to-back losses now drop the Bengals to 1-5 in the AFC.
Furthermore, star quarterback Joe Burrow left Thursday’s game in the first half with a wrist injury and did not return. The severity of the injury, and whether or not Burrow will be available for the game against the Steelers at Paycor Stadium on November 26th, is unclear at this point.
When you couple the Bengals’ struggles with the news on Tuesday that Browns’ quarterback, Deshaun Watson, will miss the remainder of the 2023 season thanks to shoulder surgery, I believe it firmly puts Baltimore in the driver’s seat in the AFC North.
Yes, the Steelers are 6-3 and currently hold a tiebreaker over Baltimore thanks to a 17-10 victory at Acrisure Stadium in Week 5. And, yes, Ravens tight end, Mark Andrews, will miss the rest of the season after suffering a serious ankle injury against Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football, but quarterbacks are what drive the bus in the NFL.
The Ravens now clearly have the best quarterback in the division–at least the best quarterback of any of the teams now with a realistic shot of winning it.
The Steelers Kenny Pickett might have a lot of intangibles, but he has yet to show any tangible evidence that he’s anywhere close to being on the same level as Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP.
The fact is, the Ravens were one of the AFC’s best teams over the past two years but were derailed due to injuries to Jackson, who missed a combined 10 regular-season games in 2021 and 2022. Baltimore started out 8-3 in 2021 but collapsed down the stretch to finish at 8-9 and out of the postseason. The Ravens were 9-4 last season but lost three of their last four games and finished second in the AFC North. Baltimore then had to go on the road on Wildcard Weekend and lost to the Bengals, 27-16.
Needless to say, Jackson staying healthy is the key. He’s passed for 2,441 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions through 11 games. The Ravens also lead the NFL in rushing yards with 1,706. Running back Gus Edwards leads the way with 564, but Jackson is close behind with 535 (of course).
The Ravens have the ninth-ranked offense in the NFL. True, the loss of Andrews, who had 45 receptions and was always a nice security blanket for Jackson, is huge, but Baltimore finally has a decent stable of receivers–including Rashod Bateman, Odell Beckham and rookie Zay Flowers.
Not only do the Ravens have the ninth-ranked offense in the NFL, but they have the second-ranked defense and lead the league in sacks by a wide margin with 44.
The Ravens have the most complete team in the division at this point and appear to be the only one capable of competing against the big dogs in the AFC once the playoffs start.
You could say the same thing about the Bengals, but they have their backs firmly against the wall when it comes to even qualifying for the postseason as a wildcard.
The Steelers, along with the Browns, who came back from 14 points down to defeat the Ravens in Baltimore last Sunday, obviously still have a shot at the North title–Pittsburgh is 2-0 in the division, while the Browns are now 2-2.
But do they have the firepower?
It doesn’t appear that they do.
The AFC North may look like it’s still up for grabs with two full months to go in the 2023 regular season–the winner of Sunday’s Steelers/Browns clash will only be a half-game out of first place–but it’s really not.
Unless something weird happens (and I’m certainly not ruling that out when talking about this crazy division), the Ravens will probably run the North in 2023.