The Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-4. They haven’t won a football game, preseason included, since Week 17 of last season. Their best offensive lineman is out for the season. Their rushing attack is one of the worst in the league. Their defense is old. Their offensive coordinator is atrocious at his job. Exactly one NFL team has made the playoffs after starting 0-4, the 1992 San Diego Chargers. The Pittsburgh Steelers will become the second.
Right now, Pittsburgh sits two games back in the loss column from the division lead, with Baltimore and Cincinnati at 2-2, and Cleveland Browns standing at 3-2. The Ravens have beaten Cleveland and Houston, were slaughtered by Peyton Manning, and just lost to Buffalo. In the Buffalo game, Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco threw four interceptions and had almost no run support. Ray Rice has been hampered by injuries, and Bernard Pierce is not the answer. The Ravens lost TE Dennis Pitta to a torn ACL and traded Anquan Boldin. Their once legendary defense now is only league average. Baltimore is at best a 9-7 team.
The Bengals choked a win away to Chicago, beat Pittsburgh, came back from 16 points down against Green Bay, and lost to Cleveland. While the Bengals were a trendy Super Bowl pick for many this year, they are in reality a very inconsistent team. They often commit stupid penalties, which can put them in a hole quickly. A.J. Green is one of the best wide receivers in the league, but Andy Dalton is an average NFL QB who is shaky from week to week. Three of their next five games come against New England, Detroit, and Miami. If they lose those three games, their season could be in danger. Cincinnati is a squad that has the potential to finish 10-6, but their inconsistency will probably bring that record down to about 8-8 or worse.
Cleveland started the year with two losses to Miami and Baltimore but rallied back with wins against Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Buffalo. Unfortunately for Browns fans, their win streak will not continue much longer. Thursday night’s win over Buffalo came with a season-ending injury to quarterback Brian Hoyer, and looking ahead they next play Detroit, Green Bay, and Kansas City in succession. The hole that HB Trent Richardson left in the backfield will surely be felt. Cleveland has one of the league’s five best defenses, but in today’s NFL the offense has to be able to score consistently to win; the Browns won’t be able to do that against good teams. The offense will limit the Browns to a 5-11 record.
In the next four weeks, Pittsburgh has a bye and then plays at the Jets, at home against Baltimore, and in Oakland. I see each of those games as being winnable for the Steelers. The Jets are 2-2, but one of those wins was gift-wrapped by a late Tampa Bay penalty and the other was against the very mediocre Buffalo Bills. Also, QB Geno Smith leads the league in turnovers through week four. New York also just got blown out by Tennessee, a team that is much improved, beat Pittsburgh earlier in the year by a touchdown, and could easily grab a wildcard birth. Baltimore is not what they were last year; many of their best players are gone, including Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin, and Ed Reed. The Ravens spent too much money on Flacco’s arm and didn’t surround him with anyone to throw it to. Oakland has the ability to beat a good team on their best daybut can struggle mightily on its worst. They currently sit at 1-3. After a near upset in Indianapolis in week one, they barely beat the atrocious Jaguars, lost to Denver, and lost to the previously winless Redskins. If the Steelers can win at least two of these three games, a division title is definitely within reach. Of their final nine games, four are difficult and five are winnable. If Pittsburgh can take care of business and strike gold with a couple of upsets, the Steelers will be hosting a game on Wildcard Weekend.
AFC North Predictions: Pittsburgh 10-6, Baltimore 8-8, Cincinnati 7-9, Cleveland 5-11