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State of the AFC North: Week 12

Baltimore and Cleveland gain, the Bengals slide continues, and the Steelers win streak is snapped.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

As we advance into the home stretch of the season, the AFC North picture is slowly becoming more clear. The Browns picked up another big victory, thoroughly defeating the Bengals in a 35-20 rout.

Cincinnati (5-6) has now lost three games in a row and the Browns (4-6-1) are just one game back from moving into third place in the division. Elsewhere, the Ravens moved into sole possession of second place with a win over the Raiders, while the Steelers lost for the first time since Week 4.

Ravens defeat Raiders: 34-17

“Gus the Bus”

It’s not just Lamar Jackson who has provided an offensive spark over the past two weeks, but rather rookie running back Gus Edwards. For the second consecutive week, Edwards put forth a dominant performance.

After rushing for 118 yards against the Raiders, Edwards is now the first Baltimore running back since Justin Forsett to record back-to-back games with over 100 yards on the ground. Edwards has taken advantage of two plus matchups against Cincinnati and Oakland.

While Alex Collins was inactive on Sunday with a foot injury, he’s unlikely to be much of a factor going forward. “Gus the Bus” has given life to a Baltimore rushing attack that struggled almost all season, and his efforts have earned him the lead back role.

Quarterback controversy?

Flacco’s practice pattern over the next several days will be telling but, given his original timeline, he’s expected to return from injury this upcoming week. The question is, will Flacco retain his role as the starting quarterback?

Lamar Jackson has been far from perfect in his two starts, but he’s helped the Ravens win consecutive games and jump back into the thick of the playoff race. Jackson has showcased his skills and revived the Ravens running game.

Against the Bengals and Raiders combined, Jackson completed 27/44 passes for 328 yards, while tossing three interceptions and scoring two touchdowns. He also added 190 yards rushing on 5.1 YPC.

Broncos defeat Steelers: 24-17

“Big Ben” makes a big mistake

After the Broncos took a 7-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Steelers had two chances to tie the game. The first possession resulted in a punt, the second ending with a crushing turnover with just over a minute left.

After two big receptions by JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers moved into the redzone. Facing a 3rd & 1 just two yards from the endzone, Roethlisberger attempted to loft a pass to Antonio Brown, who was running a crossing pattern.

However, it was a poorly thrown ball and the Broncos intercepted the pass with 1:03 remaining in the game. It was a crushing ending to a game in which Roethlisberger threw for 462 yards, but his two interceptions proved to be the difference.

Win streak no more

The Steelers loss marked the end of a six-game win streak, an impressive run that saw Pittsburgh put drama and dysfunction behind them to take control of the division. The loss drops them to 7-3-1, but they still hold a comfortable lead over the Ravens for first place.

Now, they’ll look to start a new win streak in a Sunday night showdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13. It’s an important matchup that could potentially have some playoff implications.

Things won’t get any easier for the Steelers as the season goes on, as they face back-to-back contests against the Patriots and Saints in Weeks 15 and 16. Pittsburgh will need to do a better job executing late in games down the stretch.

Browns defeat Bengals: 35-20

Mayfield of dreams

For the second consecutive game, the Browns put forth a dominant offensive performance and once again it was Baker Mayfield leading the charge.Cleveland looked fresh and spry in their first game out of the bye week, scoring 28 points in the first half and jumping out to a 21-point advantage.

Once again, it was Baker Mayfield leading the charge. The rookie signal caller continues to come on strong late in the season, as he threw for 258 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.

Over the past two games, Mayfield has combined to complete 36/46 passes for 474 yards and seven touchdowns. Even more impressive than his lack of incompletions is that Mayfield is taking care of the ball, as he’s thrown zero interceptions over this span.

True Hue colors

Was Hue Jackson the root of the Browns issues early in the season, or did was he merely scapegoated and fell on the sword? It’s been just three games since Jackson was fired, but it appears the former is correct.

Cleveland is 2-1 since Gregg Williams took over as the interim head coach and is playing inspired football on both sides of the ball. Elsewhere, Jackson has done nothing to help the Bengals midseason slide since joining Cincinnati’s staff as an assistant.

Baker Mayfield has thrived without Jackson occupying the headset. After the two exchanged in a handshake at midfield following the game, Mayfield took a lowkey shot at his former head coach in his postgame press conference.

“We have people who we believe in calling plays now,” said Mayfield.

Bengals fall to Browns: 20-35

Andy Dalton injury

The injury gods have not been very kind to Cincinnati this season, and the Bengals were dealt yet another blow on Sunday. Starting quarterback Andy Dalton exited the contest early in the second half after suffering a thumb injury.

Initial tests came back negative, revealing Dalton’s injury to be a sprain rather than a fracture. This is good news, but Dalton’s status for Week 13 will likely be up in the air until close to kickoff.

If Dalton were to miss any time, backup Jeff Driskel would likely step in as the starter. Driskel completed 17/29 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in relief of Dalton during the second half of Sunday’s loss to Cleveland.

Is time running out on Marvin Lewis?

Marvin Lewis has been the head coach of the Bengals for nearly two decades. Despite a lack of playoff success, Lewis has been given several opportunities by the Bengals front office for redemption.

It appeared the Bengals were prepared to move in a different direction towards the end of the last season. However, following an inspired Week 17 victory against the Ravens, Lewis was given a one-year extension to remain the head coach.

Cincinnati is 1-5 in their past six games and barring any miraculous turnaround, they appear headed towards another non-postseason finish this season. Look for Lewis’ seat to warm up in the coming weeks. We’ve seen this story before.