Game on: AFC North Division now heating up

Don’t look now but the AFC North is taking some interesting twists and turns.

Last weekend’s unexpected Steelers’ victory at Baltimore reduced the first-place Ravens’ margin of error somewhat, although John Harbaugh’s club maintains a reasonably healthy two-game cushion entering this weekend’s action.

Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, meanwhile, own identical 7-5 marks with both expected to prevail on their home turf Sunday. A Dec. 23 showdown rematch between the rivals unfolds in the Steel City.

Mike Tomlin’s Black & Gold should be happy to be playing at Heinz Field this weekend against a clearly-inferior San Diego (4-8) combine which is 0-2 in two eastbound road outings, including a 7-6 loss at Cleveland.

The Bengals host unpredictable 6-6 Dallas in an outcome Marvin Lewis’ team could conceivably lose.

At 4-8, Cleveland boasts a two-game win streak which should be extended by one against visiting Kansas City.

This column enjoyed a rare 12-4 success ratio last week, correctly tabbing the 23-20 final between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Of course, our ill-advised lack of faith in Charlie Batch resulted in a Ravens’ selection.


DENVER AT OAKLAND. One of the week’s superior mismatches should prove all that and more, though Peyton Manning may find it hard getting himself motivated. BRONCOS, 27-17.


BALTIMORE AT WASHINGTON. Here’s a second successive difficult test for the Dirty Birds with RG III coming off a big Monday night win over NY’s Giants. Flip a coin. RAVENS, 20-17.

ATLANTA AT CAROLINA. 11-1 Falcons must stay focused in what could be a more competitive matchup than projected. FALCONS, 28-24.

ST. LOUIS AT BUFFALO. Rams won their playoff game last week vs. 49ers. Go with with home team here. BILLS, 30-17.

NEW YORK JETS AT JACKSONVILLE. Jets’ uncertainty at QB has all the makings of our Upset Special. JAGUARS, 21-14.

PHILADELPHIA AT TAMPA BAY. Fluttering Eagles in extensive freefall despite game effort last weekend at Dallas. BUCS, 31-20.

SAN DIEGO AT PITTSBURGH. On paper, a decisive Steelers’ conquest regardless of QB. But expect Black & Gold to do just enough to get by. STEELERS, 23-16.

KANSAS CITY AT CLEVELAND. Three-game winning streak seems all but done deal on the lakefront. BROWNS, 28-13.

DALLAS AT CINCINNATI. Stakes high for both playoff hopefuls at Paul Brown Stadium. May well come down to final possession. BENGALS, 21-17.

TENNESSEE AT INDIANAPOLIS. Postseason-determined Indy bidding for ninth win with likely rookie-of-the-year Andrew Luck in control. COLTS, 37-17.

CHICAGO AT MINNESOTA. Black & Blue Division special. Another potential down-to-the-wire finish. BEARS, 20-13.

MIAMI AT SAN FRANCISCO. Niners need bounce-back victory following last weekend’s OT upset loss at St. Louis. 49ERS, 27-13.

NEW ORLEANS AT NEW YORK GIANTS. Drew Brees and company have run out of time while G-Men face near must-win situation. GIANTS, 34-24.

ARIZONA AT SEATTLE. Seahawks and Russell Wilson plenty serious regarding 2013 playoff date. SEAHAWKS, 24-10.


DETROIT AT GREEN BAY. Key game for Pack in terms of postseason pecking order. PACKERS, 38-27.


HOUSTON AT NEW ENGLAND. Potential shootout should be ratings’ bonanza between pair of opponents expecting to play into late January. Incentive edge here goes to the visitors. TEXANS, 31-28.

LAST WEEK: 12-4. SEASON: 116-71. UPSET SPECIALS: 3-10.

Gibson can be reached at