NFL Playoff Picture 2011: Steelers, Ravens And Bengals Battle In AFC North

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 11: The Pittsburgh Steelers offense lines up against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of the season opener at M&T Bank Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The AFC North is arguably the best division in the NFL at the halfway point. Will it be the Steelers, Ravens or Bengals coming out on top at the end of the year?

Posted by SB Nation's Jason Garrison.

The AFC North teams combined have won more games than any other divisions in the conference with 19 wins and only 10 losses. Tough defenses have been the biggest reason for the division's success through the first half of the 2011 season as all four teams' defenses are ranked in the top five. The AFC North boasts the AFC's current top-ranked team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and one of the NFL's most surprising teams, the Cincinnati Bengals.

Here's how the AFC North breaks down as we enter Week 9 of the 2011 season.

1: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)

2: Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)

3: Baltimore Ravens (5-2)

4: Cleveland Browns (3-4)

The Steelers started the season with an embarrassing loss to their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, but they've bounced back and beat some pretty tough team, including the New England Patriots in Week 8.

The Bengals have been one of the bigger stories of the 2011 season. Most analysts ranked them as the worst team in the NFL before the season started but after winning four games in a row and beating a tough Bills team and winning tough games on the road, the sky seems to be the limit for one of the youngest teams in the league.

They began the season looking like they would be the team to beat in the division but after an embarrassing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and a game that was too close for comfort against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8 you have to wonder if they're ready to dethrone the Steelers.

They were favored to beat out the Bengals as the worst team in the division but they lost their opening game to Cincinnati on their home turf. Outside of a couple wins over bad teams, two of which haven't won games yet, the Browns haven't been good.

The Steelers, Bengals and Ravens are all in place to win the AFC North, though the Bengals and Ravens are the only two teams with division wins. That is about to change, though. Each team is about to get into the bulk of their AFC North schedule and that is when we'll know which teams are for real in the division.

Obviously the Browns are the odd man out in the division, though they're not necessarily mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They haven't been good enough to expect them to compete within the division though.

Predicted division winner: I'll go with the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the division in 2011. Even though they've been labeled as old and slow, especially on defense, they still find ways to win and their experience will likely trump the Bengals young talent. The Ravens would obviously be other choice to win the division but after two straight poor performances against easily beatable teams, you have to wonder. The Bengals have a shot at winning the division but it's not likely that they'll be able to continue their hot streak once they enter a four-game AFC North stretch in which they play the Steelers twice.

If the Steelers do win the division, the Ravens would very much be in the hunt for a wildcard berth as would the Bengals, if they can keep on doing all the little things right and maybe pull off a division upset or two.

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