(SportsNetwork.com) – A rather stark contrast will be highlighted on “Monday
Night Football” when the Baltimore Ravens visit the Big Easy to take on the
New Orleans Saints to cap off Week 12 of the NFL season.
With six games to go in the campaign for each team, it’s the 6-4 Ravens who
are in the basement of the ultra-tough AFC North, while the underwater Saints
remain relevant in the NFC playoff picture because of the division they
play in, the dismal NFC South.
A 27-10 loss to Cincinnati at the Superdome in Week 11 lowered New Orleans’
record to 4-6 but that’s still good enough to be tied for the top spot in the
South with Atlanta entering the weekend, although the Falcons currently
hold the tiebreaker thanks to their 4-0 mark in division play.
Conversely, the Ravens play amongst a group where every team is at least two
games over .500, making the AFC North the first division since the
1935 Western Division in which every member is at least two games in the black
at any point in a season.
“I probably feel the same way I felt about it when the season opened, this is
the best division in football,” Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh stated.
“That’s only going to serve to make us all better in the end.”
Harbaugh’s Ravens, despite that 6-4 mark, are tied for last with Cleveland in
the AFC North entering Week 12. Cincinnati, at 6-3-1, tops the division with
Pittsburgh next at 7-4.
By next week, the Bengals conceivably go from first to worst.
“Every win is important,” said Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. “In our
division, there are a bunch of talented teams. It’s going to be interesting
down the stretch. Hopefully, we come out on top.”
Perhaps a better indication of just how good the AFC North has become is its
clubs’ record outside its confines. The four AFC North teams currently sport
a 17-7-1 mark against non-division opponents, the best of any division in the
football and a winning percentage of .700.
Since the AFL-NFL merger back in 1970, only seven divisions have ever finished
with a combined winning percentage of .700 or better in contests outside the
division. Three of those produced that particular season’s Super Bowl winner,
including the 2013 Seattle Seahawks from the NFC West.
The Seahawks, who were one of three different 10-win teams in the NFC West a
season ago, finished with a 13-3 mark en route to the Lombardi Trophy.
Success outside one’s division also foreshadows a significant playoff
All seven of those divisions with a .700 or better out-of-division mark
produced at least two playoff teams, with four of them sending three teams to
“(The AFC North) has always been competitive, but this year you are really
seeing the youth and talent that has been on these teams stepping up and
growing into those roles,” Cincinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “It’s
going to be a heck of a challenge to win this division.”
Others believe playing each other so consistently helps each team when they
venture outside the North.
“When you play against playoff-caliber teams, it definitely helps you,”
Pittsburgh safety Will Allen claimed. “Being in a tougher division brings
better competition and it brings a greater preparation for what’s to come.”
And what’s to come is plenty.
With six weeks remaining in the regular season, 12 different AFC clubs in a
16-team field have records of .500 or better.
“The meaningful games come at the end of November and December,” Browns
quarterback Brian Hoyer said.
All four teams in the AFC North plan on playing in those meaningful games.