A Quick Look at the AFC North, Mid-Term
So instead let’s have a look at how things are going in the glorious AFC North.
I’m afraid some of the glory has faded. The days when it was at least possible that three of the four AFC North teams would go to the playoffs are probably not gone forever, but it would be rather surprising for it to happen this year.
In Baltimore, Joe Flacco isn’t right, somehow. He still has moments, but he isn’t the Joe Cool of old. Back issues will do that to you, especially when you are on your back on a regular basis thanks to sub-par offensive line play. As for the defense, which was far and away the best defense statistically for the first few weeks of the season, they’ve come back to earth, but are still playing very well.
There are a few glimmers of hope for the Ravens. Not something a Steeler fan likes to see, but we have to be honest. The first is, they’ve found a running back. Alex Collins is looking like a stud. Flacco, after his nadir vs. the Jaguars in which he completed less than 45% of his passes and garnered a 12.0 passer rating, has had decent games and a few good ones.
The Bengals continue to find ways to lose games, by rather a lot. This is odd. Or karma. Or something. But when even A.J. Green manages to get himself ejected from a game, there seems to be something cosmic going on.
And speaking of cosmic, there is the Browns. Where to begin? The Factory of Sadness continues to spew out losses. The big question is, will the final game of the season, at Heinz Field, have the traditional result when the Steelers and Browns play in Week 17? That traditional result would be a Steelers win, followed by the firing of the head coach. Don’t take my word for it—look it up…
Here are some numbers, beginning with the most important ones, the records:
Looks good to me. (Note that Baltimore is the only team who has played nine games at this point.)
Let’s take a look at some defensive stats and rankings. The first few categories do include the additional game played by the Ravens, so those numbers may not look quite as good once everybody has played the same number of games. Or they may continue to look very good.
I have included both the chart I put up after four games and the stats as of today, because I think it is interesting to see what, if anything, has changed. The team which leads in each stat is indicated by their color. It makes it easier to compare and see how things have changed:
Next are a few indicators from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus. The Football Outsiders figure is an indication of overall defense, in their estimation. The PFF figures are the cumulative scores of the players grades for the starters at this point in time, first in base defense, then in nickel. I don’t know how much it means, but it’s a way to gauge how they view the starters in the defense. (Although note that one of the starters for the Steelers is Tyson Alualu rather than Stephon Tuitt, since Tuitt hasn’t played for a while. So this is really just a snapshot.)
As you can see there wasn’t a great deal of change, although Cleveland came up a good bit in the rankings. And when looking at the nickel defense, it’s interesting to note the cumulative player scores are within 5 points of each other for everyone but, naturally, Cleveland.
As I went back to see what I wrote after Week 4, I see that I promised an offensive comparison that somehow never happened, so now is a good time to do it. I’m going to use the same idea—general NFL and Football Outsider stats/rankings, and cumulative player grades from PFF.
First let’s look at this chart. As you can see I gave both the average QB rating and the career average for each quarterback. (Given the fungible nature of the quarterback situation in Cleveland, I didn’t even try to sort out what it would be.) Next is the ESPN proprietary stat “QBR,” in which they attempt to rate the actual quarterback play as opposed to his stat line. They don’t do career averages for whatever reason—maybe they’ve changed the formula through the years or some such. Here’s the chart:
Take a look at the QB ratings. This suggests that all of the QBs in the AFC North are playing below their career averages. It isn’t just Ben. Andy Dalton is the closest to his career stats. The next chart will give a potential reason for this:
Check out the “Difficulty of Schedule line, and note that, at least so far this season, Football Outsiders consider that the Steelers have played the most difficult schedule in the league. (You might also be interested to know they believe the Patriots have played one of the easiest.) The way they figure this is by averaging out the cumulative DVOA of the defenses each team has played. And note that Cincinnati is right behind, at No. 2, and Baltimore is at No. 4. So this might explain why all the QBs in the division seem to be struggling.
Well, that’s about all the insight I’ve got for the moment. I will update all of this sometime in December. In the meantime, Go Steelers!