During most seasons, a 4-5 team is in poor position to make a postseason push, but that hasn’t been the case this season. The AFC in particular is in rough shape at the bottom end. Sure, the usual suspects are looking as stout as ever, but the conference gets thins fast as we move down the current standings, especially in the AFC North.
As of this moment, the Cincinnati Bengals are in control with two more victories than the Browns and Ravens. The Bengals, however, have shown a level of inconsistency rarely seen at the top end of an NFL division, and they’ve done everything in their power to leave the door wide open for a challenger to their power.
Usually, we talk about the Ravens and the Steelers making runs at the divisional title. Occasionally the Bengals have inserted themselves into the discussion, but this year, we have a new face at the party, and with no favorites emerging, is there any good reason the Cleveland Browns can’t win the AFC North?
The Browns have taken a strange road to becoming a competitive football team. Brandon Weeden, who was taken 22nd overall in the 2012 draft, never panned out. That’s when Brian Hoyer was inserted as the team’s quarterback of choice. Although the Browns won all three of the games Hoyer started, he was injured and sidelined for the rest of the season.
Once again, Brandon Weeden tried and failed to insert himself as the Browns’ franchise quarterback, and now, the Browns have finally turned to Jason Campbell. With the switch, the Browns are once again in the hunt.
Although the Browns trail the Bengals in the divisional standings, they have a key component of the playoff race working in their favor. They split their series with the Ravens, and they’ve already topped the Bengals on one occasion. With a divisional record of 2-1, the Browns are in position to claim all relevant tie-breakers within the AFC North. If that becomes the case, the Browns will only need to draw even with the division leading Bengals to take over the top spot.
The Bengals schedule has eased up too. The Bengals, Patriots, Bears and Jets are all solid, but not elite, competition, and the Steelers and Jaguars would appear to be the ever-dangerous “should win” opponents that can pad the Browns’ record down the road.
It’s never easy to predict a division winner, but if the Browns can top the Bengals this weekend, the AFC North becomes a whole new ballgame. Even the Steelers and Ravens would be right back in the mix if they take care of their own business.
Of all the teams in the North, the Browns are the only squad improving, and they’re doing so quickly. They finally have a quarterback to rally behind, and they’re not making the type of elementary mistakes that have historically plagued the franchise. Sure, the Bengals should still be the favorite to win the division, but the Browns are just one game away from changing the entire complexion of the division. To this point, it’s been the Bengals’ division to lose. After Sunday’s action, it may be the Browns’ division to win.