2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Bengals in control of struggling AFC North

    2013-11-06 13:47

(Eds: Will stand. With AP Photos.)
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer

Only one team with a winning record? The Steelers and Ravens bringing up the bottom?

What's up with the AFC North?

The NFL's toughest division is having a tough year all-around. The mainstays are just trying to stay relevant at the midpoint of the season. The Bengals (6-3) are in control of a division that may send only one team to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

''I've been used to seeing Pittsburgh and Baltimore so many years at the top of this division,'' Bengals safety Chris Crocker said. ''Things have really changed. Those teams have gone through transition and so have we.

''We got a lot of young talent and just been playing very well. When we do play well we play very, very well.''

The rest of the division? Not so well. Cincinnati has a two-game lead and can pretty much scuttle the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens (3-5) with a victory in Baltimore on Sunday.

The Browns (4-5) are having an encouraging season - encouraging simply because they're not bringing up the rear - while the Steelers (2-6) have taken over the bottom spot by playing as poorly as any Pittsburgh team in the last 25 years.

---

Five things to watch in the AFC North in the second half:

MORE THAN ONE? The division has sent 11 teams to the playoffs in the last five years, the most by any division. It's the only division that has sent at least two each season, including three in 2011. Cincinnati is in good shape to win its first division title since 2009. Can any of the other teams pull themselves together and make a strong run in the second half to give the North more than one playoff team? Last year, the Bengals were 3-5 at the midpoint and won a wild card with a strong finish, joining the Ravens in the postseason.

CAN THE BENGALS HOLD ON: The most encouraging part of the Bengals' resurgent season has been the play of third-year quarterback Andy Dalton, who has become a playmaker instead of just a caretaker of the offense. The biggest concern is a defense that's lost All-Pro tackle Geno Atkins and top cornerback Leon Hall for the rest of the season and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga indefinitely because of injuries.

''You've done enough to have a lead in the division, but to be honest, this isn't the end,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ''So we're really not where we want to be until 16 games are over and you're at the top of your division. We still have a lot to go get and a lot to prove.''

HOPEFUL BROWNS: They took a big step back toward relevance with a 24-18 win over the Ravens last Sunday in Cleveland, ending Baltimore's streak of 11 straight wins in the rivalry. Jason Campbell, the 20th starting quarterback since Cleveland returned as an expansion franchise in 1999, threw three touchdown passes as the Browns pulled into second place, a bit of a rush for a franchise that hasn't won more than five games in any of the past five seasons.

''We've been a kid brother in this division for a long time,'' first-year coach Rob Chudzinski said. ''You have to go play and if you want to change that, then you have to go do things to change it.''

RAVENS IN TROUBLE: Baltimore expected a transition season with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed among those gone from the Super Bowl championship team. Instead, they've gotten knocked around. They're averaging only 71.6 yards per game on the ground, 29th in the league. The offensive line has struggled, Ray Rice has only 259 yards while playing through a hip injury, and Joe Flacco has been hurried on many of his throws.

Baltimore needs a strong finish, beginning with its game Sunday against the Bengals, to reach the playoffs for the sixth season in a row.

''As far as we are concerned, as it stands, we're in a tough spot,'' coach John Harbaugh said.

CURTAINS FOR THE STEEL CURTAIN: Pittsburgh's offense has been sapped by injuries since training camp, making it reliant once again on Ben Roethlisberger's improvisation. The biggest surprise has been the decline of a defense that ranked No. 1 last season but seems to have gotten old quickly. Pittsburgh gave up a franchise-record in points during a 55-31 loss to the Patriots last Sunday.

The Steelers have reached the Super Bowl twice in the last five seasons. They're out of playoff contention halfway through this one, with their loyal fans wondering how low they'll go. Pittsburgh has had only five losing seasons in the past 25 years. They haven't won fewer than six games in a season since 1988, when they went 5-11 under Chuck Noll.

''We're here to win,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ''That's our charge, that's our job, that's our passion. We're not getting it done consistently to this point. So, that's irritating and frustrating.''

PREDICTED WINNER: Bengals.

---

AP Sports Writers David Ginsburg in Owings Mills, Md., and Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Anthony SpencerJul 25 12:12a

Dallas Cowboys DE Anthony Spencer (knee) said he is feeling good but is not sure when he will be able to start practicing. Spencer said he is not sure [ More ]

Ndamukong SuhJul 24 05:02p

Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh's long-awaited contract extension is highly unlikely to occur before the start of training camp, according to a source. The Lions commence training camp Sunday, July 27.

Vince WilforkJul 24 04:52p

New England Patriots DT Vince Wilfork (Achilles') said he doesn't have any limitations, or he wouldn't be practicing.

Aaron RossJul 24 04:42p

Baltimore Ravens CB Aaron Ross (Achilles') has been placed on Injured Reserve. Ross will miss the entire season with a torn Achilles' tendon.

Terrance WestJul 24 04:32p

Cleveland Browns RB Terrance West (undisclosed), DT Jacobbi McDaniel (undisclosed), OG Jeremiah Warren and OL Chris Faulk (undisclosed) returned to the team's active roster Thursday, July 24.

Corey PetersJul 24 04:32p

Atlanta Falcons DT Corey Peters (Achilles') plans to be back for Atlanta's season-opener, saying he's optimistic and is feeling good.

Kevin BurnettJul 24 04:12p

The Oakland Raiders have cut LB Kevin Burnett.

D.J. HaydenJul 24 04:02p

Oakland Raiders CB D.J. Hayden (foot) is out for the start of training camp with a stress fracture in his foot.

Odell Beckham Jr.Jul 24 03:42p

New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) did not take any reps in practice Thursday July 24, as he continues to rehab from a hamstring injury.

Jonathan StewartJul 24 03:32p

Updating a previous report, Carolina Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (hamstring) is expected to miss one-to-two weeks as he recovers from a hamstring injury. Stewart will not be placed on [ More ]

Laron LandryJul 24 02:52p

Indianapolis Colts CB Vontae Davis (undisclosed) and FS LaRon Landry (undisclosed) both did not participate in practice Thursday, July 24.

Jason HatcherJul 24 02:42p

Washington Redskins DT Jason Hatcher (knee) said he is progressing pretty quickly from a knee injury. I want to get back on the field, but I know I've got [ More ]

Chase FordJul 24 02:12p

Minnesota Vikings TE Chase Ford (foot) had a procedure on his left foot last week for a stress fracture and is expected to miss training camp.

Justin BlackmonJul 24 02:12p

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon will not be cut by the team after his most recent arrest, according to owner Shad Khan. 'We want him to get help he needs,' Khan said.

Jamaal WestermanJul 24 02:02p

The Cleveland Browns signed LB Jamaal Westerman (Steelers) Thursday, July 24. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Taylor LewanJul 24 01:52p

The Tennessee Titans signed OL Taylor Lewan Thursday, July 24. Per NFL rules, the length of the contract is four years. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Larry DonnellJul 24 01:32p

New York Giants TE Larry Donnell is listed as the team's starting tight end on the first unofficial depth chart of training camp.

Tre BostonJul 24 01:02p

Carolina Panthers SS Tre Boston (hernia) was placed on the team's Physically Unable to Perform list Thursday, July 24.

Jonathan StewartJul 24 12:52p

Carolina Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (hamstring) is dealing with a hamstring injury, but the team will leave him on the active roster heading into training camp.

Cam NewtonJul 24 12:42p

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton (ankle) was cleared for practice, according to general manager David Gettleman.

Rob GronkowskiJul 24 12:12p

New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (knee) was limited in practice Thursday, July 24. He worked for an hour and 15 minutes before watching the rest of the activities. [ More ]

Anthony SpencerJul 24 12:12p

Dallas Cowboys DE Anthony Spencer (knee) was placed on the team's Physically Unable to Perform List Thursday, July 24.

Aaron RossJul 24 11:52a

Baltimore Ravens CB Aaron Ross (Achilles') has torn his Achilles' tendon.

Deone BucannonJul 24 11:32a

Arizona Cardinals S Deone Bucannon was not dropped into the starting lineup during offseason workouts, as the team has faith in FS Tony Jefferson and FS Rashad Johnson. He [ More ]

Ray RiceJul 24 11:31a

Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice will be suspended for the first two games of the season, according to sources. The announcement is expected Thursday, July 24.

Blake BortlesJul 24 11:22a

Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles' lower-body mechanics likely will be revised. Bortles' flaw has been over-reliance on his right arm when throwing; he doesn't use his legs enough. A [ More ]

Mikel LeshoureJul 24 11:14a

Detroit Lions RB Mikel Leshoure is currently believed to be the fourth tailback on the club behind RBs Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick heading into training camp [ More ]

Justin BlackmonJul 24 10:53a

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon was arrested for possession of marijuana Wednesday, July 23, in Oklahoma.

Jordan PalmerJul 24 10:52a

Chicago Bears QB Jordan Palmer still has the first shot at winning the backup quarterback job, according to head coach Marc Trestman.

R. Griffin IIIJul 24 10:22a

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III's designed running plays might be 'few and far between,' according to head coach Jay Gruden. He still has the green light to scramble [ More ]

Daniel FellsJul 24 09:42a

New York Giants TE Daniel Fells has received the first snap in 11-on-11 drills during the team's two days in training camp. Kellen Davis and Adrien Robinson have [ More ]

Ahmad BradshawJul 24 08:33a

Indianapolis Colts RB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) has been cleared to practice. Bradshaw is an RB4, but he could be worth more if Trent Richardson fails to produce again.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group