As we head into the home stretch of the regular season, the AFC North picture is almost crystal clear at this point.
The Ravens are officially in the playoffs after topping the Bills and at 11-2, they’re in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. Should they lose even one more game, they’ll likely earn a first-round bye regardless.
Pittsburgh is nearly mathematically eliminated from winning the division but maintained their slim hold on the final wild card spot after beating the Cardinals on the road. With the surging Titans on their heels, the Steelers can’t afford to slip up.
Elsewhere, the Browns and Bengals duked it out on Sunday, with the former coming out victorious. With that being said, though, the Browns are all but eliminated from playoff contention and the Bengals season was over before it started.
Ravens defeat Bills: 24-17
In a racuos, windy environment, the Ravens overcame some offensive struggles to hold off the Bills in the fourth quarter, securing a one-score victory. Baltimore’s defensive, particularly their front-seven, dominated Buffalo’s offensive line, limiting them to just 209 yards of offense and 4/17 on third down. Devin Singletary found some success in the open field at times but the Bills could get nothing going in the passing game. Josh Allen threw 39 times and completed just 17 passes for 146 yards. The Ravens made life miserable for him, forcing six sacks and 12 QB hits. In addition, Baltimore had 12 tackles for loss (TFL).
It was another strong performance from “Wink” Martindale’s group, who have not given up more than 20 points since Week 5. Baltimore’s usually-electric offense was largely stifled by a tough, hard-nosed defense in Buffalo. The Ravens rushed for 118 yards but averaged just 3.6 YPC, as Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson struggled to find running room. Like Allen, many of Jackson’s throws were either too high or far in front of his receivers, but his three touchdown passes were difference-makers, especially the 61-yard loft to Hayden Hurst.
Defining stat: 12 QB hits
What’s next: vs. New York Jets - Thursday, Dec. 12 (8:15 p.m. ET)
Browns defeat Bengals: 27-19
The Browns picked up their fourth win at home and six victory overall on Sunday, inching closer to .500 with a 6-7 record. In doing so, the Browns kept their slim playoff hopes alive but they need A LOT to go there way over the next three games. Essentially, the Browns have to win out and need the Titans and Steelers to lose out, so . . . yeah.
After leading by only one point at halftime, Cleveland scored on their first three drives of the second half. Baker Mayfield had another forgettable performance (11/24, two INT’s) but found the end zone on the ground, as did Kareem Hunt. Nick Chubb rushed for 106 yards but if not for Denzel Ward snagging an interception and returning it 61 yards for a touchdown, this is certainly a much different game. Nevertheless, the Browns how have three wins in the division this season, one of the few silver linings in an otherwise disappointing and underwhelming year.
The biggest storyline of the day for the team had nothing to do with the game, though, but rather WR Odell Beckham Jr. “OBJ” reportedly wants out of Cleveland and has asked opposing teams to trade for him. In addition, Beckham is dealing with a sports hernia injury that Mayfield - in his postgame presser - claimed has been “mishandled” by the team’s training staff.
When it rains, it pours.
Defining stat: 146 rushing yards
What’s next: @ Arizona Cardinals - Sunday, Dec. 15 (4:05 p.m
For Cincinnati, they were unable to follow up their first victory of the season with another one. Frankly, it’s probably best that they lost, as it all but solidifies that they’ll be picking first in the NFL draft next year. While the end result didn’t swing in their favor, the Bengals picked up ten more first downs than Cleveland, as well as put up more 118 more yards. They moved the ball but struggled to convert on third down and in the red zone, which proved to be their downfall.
The Bengals have to be encouraged by the play of RB Joe Mixon, who’s shaken off a rough start to the season to become an impact offensive playmaker. Mixon rushed for a season-high 146 yards on 23 carries, while also adding a rushing touchdown and 40 receiving yards (three catches). Cincinnati’s defense intercepted Baker Mayfield twice in the first half but only responded with one touchdown. They struggled to get pressure, though, recording just one sack and four QB hits.
Joe Burrow is on his way.
Defining stat: 3/12 on third down
What’s next: vs. New England Patriots - Sunday, Dec. 15 (1:00 p.m. ET)
Steelers defeat Cardinals: 23-17
In what was essentially a must-win game, the Steelers traveled West and handled their business against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals. Pittsburgh jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter but led by only three points at halftime. From there, they put the clamps on Arizona, intercepting Murray three times, one of which sealed their victory in the final seconds. The Cardinals are not world-beaters by any means, but this was certainly a loseable game for Pittsburgh and they responded with a strong showing.
It’s frankly remarkable that they’re now 8-5. Pittsburgh hasn’t had Ben Roethlisberger since Week 1, their top offensive playmakers have been in-and-out of the lineup (James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster) and they’re starting an undrafted rookie at quarterback . . . and they may be on their way to a playoff berth. The Steelers are 2-0 in Devlin Hodges’ two starts at quarterback and 3-0 overall since he took over for Mason Rudolph.
Defining stat: Three forced turnovers
What’s next: vs. Buffalo Bills - Sunday, Dec. 15 (8:20 p.m. ET)