Halfway through the season, the wheat starts to separate from the chaff, the contenders from the pretenders. And one surprise, to many, is that the AFC North again appears to be a two-horse race.
Cincinnati was a preseason sleeper pick by many to shove its way past the Steelers and/or Ravens to the top of the AFC North this season after making the playoffs last year, but the Bengals still can't seem to stand prosperity. The Bengals have not had back-to-back winning seasons since 1981-82, and despite all the preseason optimism surrounding quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green, a winning season doesn't look very likely this year either, as the Bengals stand 3-5.
For the Bengals to post a winning record, they will need to go 6-2 over the final eight games facing a schedule that includes games at San Diego and Pittsburgh and home games against the Ravens and Giants. For all their strides forward, they still have been unable to beat either the Steelers or Ravens, going 0-4 last year and 0-2 so far this year against their rivals. Can't move to the top of the division that way.
The demise of the Steelers, meanwhile, seems to have been greatly exaggerated. Despite talk of sniping and infighting between first-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and key injuries on both sides of the ball, the Steelers have won four of their past five games to move to 5-3.
The Ravens haven't exactly scored a lot of style points, but this isn't gymnastics; the scoreboard said they won, and all wins count the same. And after eight games, they have more of them (6) than any other team in the division.
So as the second half of the season begins in earnest this week, as the weather turns nasty and the temperature drops, it's the Ravens and Steelers, duking it out yet again, as it ought to be.
And they will face each other twice in the next four weeks. Should be fun.