The 2021 NFL season has been unpredictable.
From injuries to COVID-19 and an expanded 17-game regular season, no one really knows how it will end.
That is especially true for the AFC North division which has been tight for weeks.
The frontrunners appear to be the Cincinnati Bengals, who routed a depleted Baltimore Ravens team on Sunday and assumed sole possession of first place in the division.
AFC NORTH STANDINGS:
(With 2 Games Remaining)
— Sports & TV (@Greebull) December 27, 2021
The Bengals Control Their Own Destiny
Bengals win next week and they are the AFC North champs …
— Lindsay Patterson (@LndsPatterson) December 27, 2021
Part of the reason the Bengals are the frontrunners is because they control their own destiny.
All they have to do is win in Week 17, and they will be crowned AFC North champions.
Joe Burrow had a record-setting day against the Ravens with over 500 yards passing and four touchdowns.
Given how they played on Sunday, there is no indication that this young Bengals team is planning to let up.
Joe Burrow's UNREAL statline @brgridiron
– 525 passing yards
– 4 TD
– 0 INT
– 143.2 passer rating pic.twitter.com/488kNSeKLE
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 26, 2021
Their Week 17 opponent is a tough one though; it is Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ravens Can Lose AFC North And Still Make Playoffs
Even with a four-game losing streak, the Ravens are still precariously holding on to the seventh seed in the AFC Playoff picture.
The Ravens finish the season with two home games against the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers and can still win the AFC North but must win out and get outside help to have a chance.
— Eric Puckett (@RavensAllDay87) December 27, 2021
The momentum is not in the Ravens’ favor.
In addition to the four-game losing streak, COVID-19 and injuries have wreaked havoc with the roster and kept quarterback Lamar Jackson out of the lineup.
To win the AFC North or to earn a playoff berth, the Ravens need a healthy Jackson under center.
The Browns Can Be A Spoiler
Being a Browns fan this season is not for the weak of heart.
This team is 7-8, but six of their losses have been by a point differential of six points or less.
They do not capitalize on opportunities and let late game leads slip away.
Relying on the Browns to win their final two games against the Steelers and the Bengals is a risky proposition.
— Nick A Ficorelli II (@nafsports2020) December 27, 2021
If the Browns take care of their business, the outside scenarios are not far fetched.
The Rams will likely be favored over the Ravens.
As previously mentioned, the Chiefs are traveling to Cincinnati to play the Bengals.
Conceivably the Chiefs are playing at a high level and are peaking at the right time so they can win that game on the road.
Just so #Browns fans know, if the Rams beat the Ravens next week, KC beats the Bengals & the Browns beat the Steelers, the Browns-Bengals game Week 18 will be winner-take-all in the AFC North.
Just so you know.
— Ed Greenberger (@EdGreenberger) December 26, 2021
The Steelers Are Still In It
The Steelers must win at home against Cleveland in Week 17 to stay in the hunt.
— SteelerNation (@SteeIerNation) December 27, 2021
That is not a far-fetched idea either as it is the last home game of the season for the Steelers and could be the final game at Heinz Field for future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
We can expect the Steelers team to play hard for Big Ben.
Inconsistent Play Has Made The Division So Tight
The biggest problem with the AFC North has been the inconsistent play from one week to the next.
The eventual AFC North winner will be the team who plays the best in the final two weeks of the season.
Meaningful January football games are a treat for NFL fans, and the AFC North teams are providing plenty of those in the final weeks of the season.