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The AFC North Week 14 Rooting Guide

The AFC North Week 14 Rooting Guide
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Rooting challenge of the week: Steelers @ Bengals, who are flying high after a near perfect week 13.

 

New rooting challenge of the week: Adderall ends Haloti Ngata’s regular season. How will the suspension affect those rooting for and against the Ravens?

 

No team has experienced a perfect week in the brief two year history of the Rooting Guide, but the Bengals came as close as any in Week 13. All three division rivals fell, as did the overall #1 seed New England Patriots. It didn’t help that fellow division leaders Denver and Indianapolis won, but a Denver win was also a Chiefs loss, helping Cincinnati’s safety net if their fate ends up in the hands of a wildcard berth. As for the rest of the division, each team would have had similar results except for one minor detail. They all lost. All is not lost however. Most of the tangled up 7-4 teams from last week are now tangled up 7-5 teams.

Heading into week 14, amazingly three AFC North teams are tied for 2nd place, but they are now 1.5 games behind the division leading Cincinnati Bengals. Regarding the overall playoff picture, eight AFC teams are still solidly in playoff contention, and 11 are still in contention.

While its always nice to see your favorite team win and improve its playoff position, its almost as fun to

root for others to fail.

In week 14’s Rooting Guide, tiebreakers are still the focus, but strength of schedule also becomes much more interesting when analyzing a team’s chances for a playoff berth. Schedule strength may just be the deciding factor when making the tough rooting decision. With that in mind, the following assumptions will be made this week:

1. It is more important to lock in a playoff spot than to worry about playoff seedings. Once a team is in, anything can happen.

2. With three teams tied for the AFC North’s 2nd spot, divisional pride is out of the question. Individual survival is much more important than caring whether or not a fellow Northerner falls out of the wild card chase.

3. AFC North fans STILL expect a division title and not a wildcard spot. A title isn’t out of the question considering the Bengals schedule, and is the easiest path to a playoff berth.

4. “Consensus” picks below include everyone but fans of those teams, who will obviously be rooting for their favorite team.

5. Some fans will let sheer hatred overrule the logical choice.

Games with playoff implications (Records are listed for non-eliminated AFC teams only. The NFC records are irrelevant):

Steelers (7-5) @ Bengals (8-3-1, #3 seed)

Ravens (7-5) @ Dolphins (7-5)

Indianapolis (8-4, #4 seed) @ Browns (7-5)

Texans (6-6) @ Jaguars

Bills (7-5) @ Broncos (9-3, #2 seed)

Chiefs (7-5) @ Cardinals

Patriots (9-3, #1 seed) @ Chargers (8-4)

CONSENSUS PICKS:

Indianapolis – Although some Bengals fans may be confident that their 1.5 game lead is safe and would rather widen the gap on the current #4 seed, realistically, the Bengals have the most difficult remaining schedule in the AFC North, and any divisional rival’s loss would be welcome. Steelers and Ravens fans will certainly come together and root for Indy to give the Browns a playoff body blow. A Browns loss may also give Steelers the potential added bonus of escaping that nightmare 3-way tiebreaker with the Browns and Ravens, holding them back from a much higher AFC seed.

Jaguars – A Texans loss would all but eliminate Houston. They don’t appear to be much of a playoff risk, but they have the Jags twice on their remaining schedule, and could conceivably jump into the mix if they gain momentum and win three or four out of four down the stretch

Cardinals – Besides the fact that a loss would give the Chiefs their 6th loss, nobody wants to see KC gain confidence against a solid Cardinals team. Arizona has not lost at home this year, and the Chiefs’ are coming off of a deflating loss in KC this past weekend. The Chiefs have a challenging schedule down the stretch but a win vs Arizona could pave the way for a 3-1 finish.

And now for the action…

Steelers or Bengals? If a division title is the number one priority, obviously root for the Steelers. The Bengals need to lose at least two of their remaining games for any other team to have a chance. A Bengals loss at home could easily lead to a 1-3 or even 0-4 finish as they then head to Cleveland, host the Broncos, then head to Pittsburgh to end the season. However, a Steelers win would give Pittsburgh a boost to begin their own challenging schedule as they finish the season at Atlanta and at home vs the Chiefs and Bengals. The last thing the Browns and Ravens need is more competition for both the wildcard and the division. Rooting for the Bengals would make sense in this case. Cincinnati will be underdogs in at least two or their final three games, so even if they pull out a win this Sunday, there is still a chance for teams to catch them. In short, those fans with supreme confidence in their team should root for the Steelers. Those who aren’t confident (and we suspect many fit this category) should root for the Bengals to give their flailing teams a better shot at backing into the playoffs…

Ravens or Dolphins? At face value, folks may wonder why this game is not in the “consensus” category. Similar to last week, a Ravens win hands the Steelers a better tiebreaker scenario and a higher seed going into week 15. The Dolphins and Steelers are currently tied at 6-3 in-conference, and a Fins victory would give Miami a better “common games” record at 2-1 compared to the Steelers who are 1-2 after losing to the Jets at home. The Steelers also own all tiebreakers with the Ravens (at this point) as long as they aren’t stuck in a 3-team tie. In addition, with the recent loss of Haloti Ngata, the Ravens are less of a threat, and their upcoming games in Houston and at home versus the Browns become much more difficult due to his ability to contain the run and to open up lanes for the linebackers and pass rushers. Browns fans may  root for the Ravens to help remove Miami from the equation, knowing that they have a better shot at taking out the Ravens in week 17. Bengals fans just want the Ravens to lose.

Bills or Broncos? Realistically, only Bengals fans should think about rooting for the Bills, as the odds of any other AFC North team grabbing a #1 or #2 seed are slim at best. With #2 seed Denver sitting at 7-1 in-conference, North teams not named “Bengals” are essentially three games out with four to play. A Bills loss when combined with their remaining schedule would send them to the brink of elimination.

Patriots or Chargers? See “Bills or Broncos?” above. This is the same scenario minus one difference: This game is much more important to the playoff hopes of the bottom three AFC North teams. If there was ever a time to put on the Pats jersey you were forced to wear once in a losing bet, this is it. We don’t recommend that however. Substitute consuming your favorite Boston Micro Brew or Irish whiskey.

SeedstandingsBest week 14 BengalsBest week 14 RavensBest week 14 SteelersBest week 14 BrownsProjected finish
1 NE 9-3Cin 9-3-1NE 10-3NE 10-3NE 10-3NE 12-4
2Den 9-3NE 9-4Den 10-3Den 10-3Den 10-3Den 12-4
3Cin 8-3-1Den 9-4Cin 9-3-1Ind 9-4Cin 9-3-1Cin 10-5-1
4Indy 8-4Ind 8-5Ind 9-4Cin 8-4-1Ind 9-4Ind 10-6
5San 8-4San 9-4San 8-5Pit 8-5San 8-5Bal 10-6
6Mia 7-5Mia 8-5Bal 8-5San 8-5Mia 8-5Pit 9-7
7KC 7-5Buf 8-5Mia 7-6Bal 8-5Cle 8-5San 9-7
8Pit 7-5KC 7-6Pit 7-6Mia 7-6Pit 7-6KC 9-7
9Cle 7-5Bal 7-6KC 7-6KC 7-6KC 7-6Mia 9-7
10Bal 7-5Pit 7-6Buf 7-6Buf 7-6Buf 7-6Cle 9-7
11Buf 7-5Cle 7-6Cle 7-6Cle 7-6Bal 7-6Hou 8-8
12Hou 6-6Hou 6-7Hou 6-7Hou 6-7Hou 6-7Buf 8-8

There you have it. We will do the work for you. Just sit back and watch.

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