What once looked like a smooth and downhill path toward the postseason, now it's looking like the steepest hill to climb by the Baltimore Ravens.
Well, maybe that's a bit too much, but the injury-ravaged Ravens (2-1) somehow defeated their two first opponents of the season on their way to earning an impeccable 2-0 record...
...only to fall to the lowly Colts (2-1) last weekend and make things look much tougher for them going forward. Oh, and if you're new to these places, the Ravens happen to play in this division that we call the "AFC North," which is far from a joke.
The AFC North is looking like the tightest NFL division three weeks into the regular season
The Bengals entered the 2023 campaign as the favorites to clinch the division and even make a relatively easy run throughout the postseason. They lost their first game to the Browns in a rather one-sided way and then fell to the Ravens in Week 2 to start the year 0-2.
The Browns beat the Bengals in Week 1 but then fell to divisional foes Pittsburgh in Week 2 while also losing their best player (running back Nick Chubb) for the remainder of the season.
The Steelers got destroyed by Super Bowl favorite San Francisco in Week 1, then defeated Cleveland, and entered Week 3 with an even record.
The Ravens had a chance at going 3-0 with no other member of the AFC North able to reach that record... but they fumbled the ball (literally and figuratively) and now everything is hella packed entering Week 4.
NFL Week 4 through Week 6: Baltimore's most crucial stretch of the season
Last weekend (including Monday Night Football) saw Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati win their matchups and Baltimore lose its game against the Colts. Uh, oh.
It's now a three-team tie atop the AFC North with the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns all boasting a 2-1 record and the Bengals trailing with their 1-2 balance.
Week 4 at Cleveland Browns
The Browns, who own the no. 1 defense in the NFL, are next in Baltimore's schedule.
They defeated Tennessee 27-3 without any trouble at all, didn't allow a single touchdown on the day, and featured a very scary-looking Myles Garrett who sacked Ryan Tannehill 3.5 times to go with applying eight pressures.
Week 5 at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers will host the Ravens two weeks from now after Cleveland and Baltimore face each other next Sunday.
Pittsburgh finally found a way to make their offense operate under the guidance of QB Kenny Pickett in Week 3, beating the Las Vegas Raiders 23-18 with the sophomore quarterback completing 16 passes for 235 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
The Steelers went down 0-7 but then scored 23 consecutive points without allowing one after the fourth quarter.
Week 6 vs. Tennessee Titans (in London)
The Titans have struggled mightily so far, but this is another difficult game booked overseas.
The Browns are coming off blasting Tennessee 27-3 just a couple of days ago, and if the Ravens beat Cleveland on Sunday everybody will assume the Flock will fly to Europe and destroy the Titans. Let's give that a moment of pause, please.
The Titans are not playing for the chip, but they are 1-2 and better than whatever they're right now. The defense and the offense are competent but have not quite clicked, and there are players out there every weekend with more than a few accolades to their names (DeAndre Hopkins, Derrick Henry anyone?).
The Ravens are playing for their season in the next three weeks before returning home to host the Detroit Lions in Week 7 at M&T Bank Stadium. Fasten your seatbelts because we're in for a stint packed full of high emotions, folks.