AFC North Stock Watch



1. Bengals' playoff chances: Only five weeks ago, Cincinnati was 6-2 and looked like a playoff contender. Now, after four losses in five games, the Bengals need some major help to reach the postseason. Cincinnati has to win out (final three games are against St. Louis, Arizona and Baltimore) and needs the Jets and Titans to lose another AFC game. At this point, the Bengals trail the Jets by a game for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Cincinnati has made the playoffs only twice since 1990.

2. Fear of throwing in the direction of Browns CB Joe Haden: He's still the most talented cornerback in the division, and most quarterbacks prefer to attack Sheldon Brown's side of the field. But that hasn't been the case recently late in games. In a three-game span, Haden gave up the game-changing, 51-yard pass to Cincinnati's A.J. Green and the 79-yard touchdown to Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown. In Haden's defense, he was making the right read against Brown but he slipped. Still, teams aren't avoiding Haden in the fourth quarter.

3. Bengals' defense: Cincinnati crumbled late in the fourth quarter against Houston, allowing the Texans and rookie fifth-round pick T.J. Yates to score 10 points in 5 1/2 minutes. The Bengals gave up a season-worst 412 total yards, including 300 yards passing to Yates (who had only 258 career passing yards entering this game). Cincinnati was the league's top-ranked defense at the end of October (giving up 278.5 yards per game), but the Bengals have been in a free fall ever since their bye. In the past seven games, Cincinnati has held only one team under 295 yards (the Cleveland Browns) and has allowed an average of 345.7 yards.


1. Ray Rice's carries: The Ravens have a history of turning to their running back in December, and it's no different this year. In the first nine games of the season, the Ravens running back averaged 15.3 carries. In the last four -- all wins -- Rice has received 24 carries per game. During this stretch, he has run for 470 yards and scored four touchdowns. Baltimore is 6-0 when Rice gets at least 20 carries and 4-3 when he does not.

2. Stinginess of the Pittsburgh defense: The Steelers have always ranked among the best in fewest points allowed, but this is taking it to the extreme. These are the points that Pittsburgh has allowed in its past three games: 9, 7 and 3. The last time the Steelers held three consecutive opponents under 10 points in the regular season was 2006. Pittsburgh is giving up 15.2 points per game this season, which ranks second to San Francisco. Over that three-game period, the Steelers have allowed one touchdown and forced seven turnovers.

3. Resiliency of the AFC North quarterbacks: The ability of Ben Roethlisberger and Colt McCoy coming back from serious injuries demonstrates the toughness of the quarterbacks in this division (even though McCoy shouldn't have been allowed to return). The AFC North is the only division where no starting quarterback has missed a game. In the AFC South and AFC West, six of the eight teams have had starting quarterbacks miss at least one game. This streak in the AFC North could end Sunday if McCoy is sidelined with a concussion, but it's still an impressive feat.