Sports fans in general, especially in the social media era, succumb to extreme emotions and become completely irrational about the current state of their team on a game-by-game basis, whether it be after game 1 of a 162 game season, or game 6 of a 16 game season. There is no better example than fans of the NFL, a league that plays just 16 games over four grueling months, and kindly gives crazed fanatics five to 14+ days to stew after a win or loss. This has never been more evident than during the first half of the AFC North season. Every team has experienced dramatic shifts in momentum week-to-week or sometimes within a game itself, and their followers have reacted in kind. Bengals fans were waving the Super Bowl flag after three games, the white flag after the next three, and are currently left wondering what is around the next corner. Browns fans were riding the wave of emotions on a half-to-half basis during their first four games, filled with dramatic wins and losses. Recently they have been on a high they haven’t felt since the mid 2000s… other than that inexplicable loss to Jacksonville, which temporarily filled their memories with terror. Ravens fans are mumbling incoherently because their team can’t execute with any consistency. And the Ravens knack of failing late in tight games has their faithful tossing TVs like a Cowboys fan (youtube it). Its all Flacco’s/DB’s/WR’s/Harbaugh’s fault. And finally the Steelers fans, who were ready to go all Snoop Dog on their offensive coordinator after week two, question all coaches and the GM after week four, and gut the team after its week six, are currently making room on their mantle for trophy XII. What lies ahead? Nobody has a clue, but there won’t be a shortage of opinions on the subject.
Its time to get back to reality and take an unemotional look at what the teams have actually done and what we can realistically expect through week 17.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1)
Preseason Prediction: 9-7 record (3-3 division, 7-1 home, 2-6 away)
Revised Prediction: 9-6-1 record (4-2 division, 6-1-1 home, 2-6 away)
During their first eight games, the Bengals actually did slightly better than predicted (beat the Ravens on the road, but tied the Panthers at home). However, they play five of their last eight on the road, including 3 in a row. They have 4 divisional games remaining, take on the Saints in New Orleans (11 straight wins at home), and host the Broncos. The only remaining game that can be classified as a “sure thing” is at Tampa (0-4 home). On the bright side, the Bengals are catching Denver at home, as Manning has looked confused outside of Denver against teams not named “the Jets”. In order to reach 10 wins and possibly take the division title, the Bengals must get past the lighter part of their schedule starting this Thursday against the Browns (1-2 road), @ New Orleans (3-0 home), @ Houston (2-2 home), @ Tampa Bay (0-4 home) by winning three of the four.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
Preseason Prediction: 10-6 record (4-2 division, 6-2 home, 4-4 away)
Revised Prediction: 10-6 record (3-3 division, 6-2 home, 4-4 away)
After nine games, the Steelers actually have one less win than predicted so far with a win versus Indianapolis, but losses to the Browns and Buccaneers. Lucky for Pittsburgh, upcoming match-ups in Atlanta (2-2 home) and at home vs New Orleans (1-4 road) do not seem as tough as they once did, although the Saints are always dangerous. The Steelers also host a hot Chiefs team, and play the Bengals twice. If the Steelers get to the bye without another loss, they should make it to 10 wins, but it won’t be easy. Playing @Jets (1-4 home), and @ Titans (1-3 home) are the types of games that have given the Steelers fits over the past few years.
Cleveland Browns (5-3)
Preseason Prediction 5-11 record (1-5 division, 4-4 home, 1-7 away)
Revised Prediction 8-8 record (2-4 division, 6-2 home, 2-6 away)
Lets preface this by saying the Browns preseason prediction was purposefully on the low sided due to years of underachieving when compared to previous predictions. It was noted that the Browns schedule was favorable and seven to eight wins were possible. That said, Cleveland was all over the predictions map during their first eight games. They had unexpected wins (Saints, Steelers), an improbable win (Titans), and an unexpected loss (Jaguars). When all was said and done, they out-performed predictions by two games to the plus side. The second half of the Brown’s season will be much tougher than the first. If they can become a proven road team quickly, they may be able to push towards 9-10 wins. The next four games will most likely tell the story: @Bengals (4-0-1 home), Texans (2-3 road), @Falcons (2-2 home), @Bills (2-2 home). If the Browns can win at least two out of four, they may surprise everyone and stay in the playoff hunt through December.
Baltimore Ravens (5-4)
Preseason Prediction 10-6 record (4-2 division, 7-1 home, 3-5 away)
Revised Prediction 9-7 record (3-3 division, 6-2 home, 3-5 away)
The Ravens won or lost every game predicted minus a home game to Cincinnati, although a home divisional loss to a team ahead in the standings is THE worst case scenario. They are also going into the final 7 game stretch following two traumatic losses. The Ravens will have to regroup in a hurry this Sunday and go into their bye week on a high note. All is not lost, however. If the Ravens can manage to win two of the following games: @Saints (3-0 home), San Diego (2-3 road), @Dolphins (2-2 home), @Texans (2-2 home), they should finish with 10 wins as well. Its that simple…
Now let the emotional response resume…