Thoughts on the Final 8 Weeks
Looking ahead to the final 8 weeks of the season, Pittsburgh and Baltimore will probably be in a duel to the end. The race heated up after Baltimore squeaked out a win against the Titans last night on Monday Night Football to pull within one-half game of the Stillers. Below is the schedule for the contenders (PIT & BAL) as well as the pretenders (CLE & CIN). Tennessee and Jacksonville at 3-5 cannot be completely discounted although the odds are stacked greatly against them.
|PIT (6-2)||BAL (6-3)||CLE (4-4)||CIN (4-4)||JAC (3-5)||TEN (3-5)|
When looking at the schedules for Cleveland and Cincinnati, you'll notice that their seasons finish on the road. Cleveland's final 4 out of 5 games are on the road while Cinci wraps up with 3 out of 4 games on the road. This fact alone will run both teams out of the wild card picture. What can't be ruled out is their ability to upset either Pittsburgh or Baltimore in the race for the division crown. Both teams have improved considerably over last year and need to be taken seriously. The Titans and Jags, who aren't exactly rollovers, also have the power to wreak havoc within the division even if they don't enter the playoff picture themselves.
What will make the race for the AFC Central crown interesting is the similarity between the teams involved. For Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the strength of schedule is similar and both teams have more home than road games. Baltimore, though, has the advantage of a second half bye week. Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore are strong defensively and questionable on offense which makes both susceptible to low scoring losses. The Stillers are in a much stronger position to gel offensively though, so in my opinion, the team's destiny lies in the hands of the coaches and offensive players. Baltimore without Jamal Lewis and a steadfast QB lacks the big guns on offense to take over the game while Pittsburgh has a number of tools who have shown the ability to spark the O including Bettis, Zereoue, Ward and even Stewart and Burress (not to mention the ass-kicking offensive line). The lingering question: Can and will they put TD's up on the scoreboard?
The scary aspect to the Ravens is that they are still the reigning champs and they believe they can win each and every game. I wouldn't expect this to diminish but strengthen down the stretch. Will Pittsburgh match the Ravens confidence in the coming weeks? If so, the match-up in Baltimore could ultimately decide the AFC Central champs. But, on the other hand, a win at PISSNET Stadium will be worthless if the Stillers don't maintain a week-at-a-time focus. At 3-2 in the division, the Stillers need to take care of business against the Jags and Titans in the next two weeks before looking ahead to Dec. 16th.
It will be interesting to see how things unfold. At the moment, I like the Black 'n Gold's chances to win the division, but it's going to be a wild ride, so buckle up!