It’s easy to point to the AFC South as the weakest division in the league, but one should not overlook the hot mess of dumpster fires that makes up the AFC North.
How bad is it? Andy Dalton is one of the few bright spots in the entire division.
Pittsburgh Steelers, 2-5
It’s nearly unfathomable the Pittsburgh Steelers are only two years removed from their last Super Bowl run watching them the first half of the season.
While much has been made of Todd Haley’s rocky relationship with the players — namely Ben Roethlisberger, it’s now been a season and a half under his direction and the offense has gone from anemic to moribund in the first half of 2013. The running game is averaging 3.3 yards a carry, receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have dropped half as many touchdowns as they’ve made, and Roethlisberger has been sacked 26 times so far this season behind a porous offensive line. Meanwhile, the aging defense could can only dream of seeing the number of sacks their quarterback has experienced this season. The once-dominate D has only forced 5 fumbles and 10 sacks in the first half of 2013 and are not getting the takeaways that have helped mask offensive issues over the past few years. Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu continue to perform solidly, but are not enough to carry the entire team. Special teams would be passible if it were not for the fact that Zolton Mesko’s blocked punt led to an Oakland score and two missed field goals by Shaun Suisham were the difference between 3-4 and 2-5.
Yet another dreadful lost to the Raiders — a 1-4 streak going back to 2006 that I put squarely on a joke Ape made in the Deadspin comments seven years ago about circling dates on a calendar — with an upcoming road game in New England this weekend and one has to wonder if the Steelers can salvage any part of the season against the Bills, Lions and Browns before facing the Ravens on Thanksgiving. (Bet NBC is wondering how it can flex a holiday Thursday game right about now.)
And the biggest news from Mike Tomlin all season? The drama of who gets to play pool around practice. Man has some sort of invisibility shield around him. Hope it’s fireproof.
Baltimore Ravens, 3-4
If it’s unbelievable that the Steelers are only two years removed from the Super Bowl, it’s unconscionable the Baltimore Ravens are the reigning champs. How cursed is Baltimore? Beanie Wells blew out his ACL just trying out for the team last week.
While it was predicted the Ravens would struggle this season with the loss of Anquan Boldin and Ray Lewis’ interpretive dance, injuries and cap space have become an even bigger factor for Baltimore. Elite only-in-pay-and-not-performance, Joe Flacco has been missing his safety blanket tight end Dennis Pitta all season who a broken hip suffered over the summer and isn’t expected to return until mid-November at the earliest. Instead Flacco has been reliant on receiver Torrey Smith and TE Dallas Clark and running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, the former being a complete disappointment to both fans and fantasy football players alike in 2013.
When the best player on the team, Terrell Suggs, says the team is in a “state of emergency” before going heading into their bye week, you add an extra dumpster fire to what should just be an underperforming squad of three dumpster fires.
Also, isn’t this team coached by the older, cocky, jerk-face of the Harbaughs? Where’s that guy this season?
Cleveland Browns, 3-5
One would think that a team juggling three quarterbacks — Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer — in eight games would set more dumpsters on fire this season, but since the Ravens and the Steelers have proven to be bigger arsonists the Browns don’t look so bad in comparison.
Cleveland nearly upset the AFC’s top Kansas City Chiefs (paper tiger they may be) this past weekend and have already racked up a win against the division leading Cincinnati Bengals and have shown they can come from behind in their final push against the Buffalo Bills. Josh Gordon has proven to be an excellent receiver in his second season and will be a real threat once Hoyer returns next year, that is the Browns don’t trade him or the league doesn’t suspend him again for drug violations. (My tirade on the NFL’s rules on marijuana in today’s legalized climate will have to wait for another day. Sorry, Gordon.) Consistent defense and the fun of saying “Barkevious Mingo” to my dog on game day gives the Browns a sense of levity we have not seen in some time, a refreshing break from the broken down teams of the past decade. Rob Chudzinski seems like a crazy person willing to take risks, leading the league with 4th down attempts. I like that sort of gambler (when it’s not my team).
Adding one dumpster fire for trading Trent Richardson early in the season though. While probably the smart long-term decision for the team, it was just too much fun watching Browns fans howl in pain when the one player they identified with left Cleveland. One more dumpster fire for the Feds investigating owner Jimmy Haslam’s Flying J and carrying $4 billion dollars in corporate debt. Haslam’s people have rightly been keeping him out of the spotlight, probably to the pain of the rest of the Haslam family who had their sights on owning their own football team for quite some time before buying the Browns a year ago this month.
Cincinnati Bengals, 6-2
YOU ARE ALLOWING YOUR TEAM TO BE LEAD BY THIS GUY AND YOU’RE STILL 6-2. I AM GOING TO LIGHT YOUR DUMPSTER ON FIRE IT MAKES ME SO MAD.
Ugh, it’s just sickening.
Just run away with the division, and they will, and get on with it already.