With three games remaining in the season, the AFC North division race is shaping up to be a wild finish at the top between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
The Steelers dropped their third game in a row on Sunday, losing to the Raiders on the road in an upset defeat. Their loss opened the window for Baltimore to seize the division lead, but the Ravens failed to capitalize and fell to the Chiefs in heartbreaking fashion.
However, Baltimore is still just a half game back and has a more favorable schedule than the Steelers. Elsewhere, the Browns earned another impressive victory and leapfrogged the Bengals for third place. Cincinnati dropped their fifth consecutive game.
Chiefs defeat Ravens: 27-24
No “D” in Defense
For much of Sunday’s game, the Ravens defense held their own against arguably the top offense in the league. Baltimore’s pass rush did a nice job flustering Mahomes and forced him into an errant interception throw in the third quarter.
The Chiefs failed to score on their first three drives of the second half, a rare occurrence for a high-octane offense that averages 36.2 points per game. However, as we’ve seen many times before, the Ravens defense failed to come up with stops late in the game.
On the Chiefs game-tying touchdown drive with just minutes remaining, the Ravens had two separate opportunities to retain possession and win the game. Kansas City converted on a 4th & 9 to keep the drive alive and scored a touchdown on 4th & 3 in the redzone.
Baltimore had similar struggles in the fourth quarter against New Orleans earlier in the season. Their inability to get stops late in key moments has existed long before this year, however, and it reared it’s ugly head once again in Week 14.
With Joe Flacco set to return from injury this week and be cleared to play, quarterback controversy figures to swirl around the Ravens organization. John Harbaugh will likely be non-committal on naming a starter, but the choice is fairly obvious at this point.
Is Jackson a polished passer? Certainly not. He’s shown inconsistencies with his accuracy and mechanics since taking over. However, he’s 3-1 as a starter and Baltimore was just a play or two away from toppling one of the best teams in the league on the road.
Other than a costly fumble on the Ravens last drive, Jackson played fairly well in a tough environment. He made several impressive throws, tossed two touchdown passes in the second half, and rushed for 71 yards. It was arguably his best performance to date.
Reinserting Flacco into the lineup now would be unpopular move, and for good reason. The Ravens have developed a formula for success, allowing the team and fanbase to rally around Jackson. Disrupting their chemistry now would be foolish and could prove costly.
Raiders defeat Steelers: 24-21
It’s been somewhat of a rollercoaster season in Pittsburgh. At the beginning of the year, the Steelers looked lost and dysfunctional. Then, they proceeded to go on a six-game win streak and appeared be running away with the division.
However, over the past few weeks, the tide has once again turned. They’ve lost three consecutive games to the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders - three AFC West teams. Even before that, they barely hung on to beat the Jaguars in an unimpressive victory.
Since dominating the Panthers on Thursday night in Week 10, Pittsburgh has simply looked like a different team. Now, they’re in danger of losing the division lead and potentially missing the playoffs with upcoming matchups against the Patriots and Saints.
Not so “special” teams
For the second consecutive game, Pittsburgh's struggles on special teams arguably cost them a victory. Against the Chargers, the Steelers were called for offsides after Los Angeles missed a game-winning field goal attempt.
After blocking the next attempt, they were called for offsides again and the Chargers kicked the game-winning field goal on the third try. Pittsburgh had a chance to send Sunday’s game into OT and potentially avoid an upset, but once again collapsed.
It was Chris Boswell who collapsed, actually, and literally. Trailing by three points, kicker Chris Boswell slipped and had his 40-yard field goal attempt blocked as time expired in the fourth quarter. Whether it be a lack of coaching discipline or just boneheaded errors, the Steelers are costing themselves victories.
Chargers defeat Bengals: 26-21
Mixon rumbles on
There are many reasons for the Bengals midseason collapse, but sophomore running back Joe Mixon is not one of them. Mixon has had a strong season and been one of the lone bright spots on Cincinnati’s roster.
Against the Chargers, Mixon rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. After an inefficient rookie season, Mixon has averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry in all but two games this season.
On the season, he’s averaging 4.9 YPC and has rushed for 755 yards and five touchdowns. If not for a leg injury that sidelined him for multiple games earlier in the season, Mixon’s numbers would be better. Nevertheless, it’s been a successful season for Mixon.
Cincy hangs tough on the road
The Chargers were the heavy favorites entering Sunday's matchup, and for good reason. However, despite a vast edge in talent and holding home field advantage, Cincinnati surprisingly gave Philip Rivers and company a good battle.
The Bengals held the advantage in total yards, plays, first downs, and time of possession. While they never led throughout the game and ultimately came up short, the fact that they managed to pull to within one possession in the fourth quarter is impressive.
Cincy doesn’t have much to play for at this point in the season, given their playoff chances have all but evaporated. However, with two divisional games remaining against the Steelers and Browns, look for the Bengals to play inspired football to end the year.
Browns defeat Panthers: 26-20
Jarvis does it all
It’s been a bit of an up-and-down season for Jarvis Landry. After being traded to Cleveland and signing a 5-year, $75 million dollar extension, Landry hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations that were set for him.
However, against the Panthers on Sunday, he showcased the versatility and skill that made the Browns feel comfortable signing him to such a large contract. Landry may have only caught three passes, but he made the most of them.
In addition to a 51-yard touchdown reception, Landry rushed twice for 54 yards a first quarter touchdown.
Lopsided second half
After entering halftime with the score tied at 17-17, the Browns put forth a dominant second half performance, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Carolina did not score a touchdown after the second quarter.
Excluding a field goal in the third quarter, the Panthers second half drives resulted in three punts, an interception, and a loss of downs. Carolina did finish with 393 total yards, but they did not result in many points, which is ultimately what matters.
While they were held scoreless in the third quarter, Cleveland scored a touchdown and field goal on back-to-back drives in the fourth to seal a victory. The Browns have won four of their five games at home this season.