After an offseason of pundits overlooking them in the division at the expense of the Browns and, to a lesser extent, the Steelers, it’s the Ravens who came out on top. Having already won the division with two weeks remaining in the season is unfamiliar territory for Baltimore but that is exactly where they find themselves after winning every game since Week 4.
The Browns rolled over against the Cardinals on the road, watching their already distant playoff hopes fade away into the sunset. Pittsburgh failed to capitalize against the Bills on Sunday night and the Bengals dropped to 1-13 on the year.
Ravens defeat Jets: 42-21
You could argue this game was closer than the score indicates, but you could also argue it was even more lopsided than a 21-point spread. Either way, the Ravens won by multiple touchdowns, as most people expected them to heading into Thursday night.
The Ravens started hot and finished even hotter, as the Greg Williams’ defense had no answers for the buzzsaw that is Lamar Jackson and company. Aside from a couple overthrows, Jackson was unstoppable from start to finish. The MVP frontrunner completed 15/23 pass attempts for 212 yards and five touchdowns, all of which were caught by different receivers. He also led the Ravens with 86 rushing yards on eight attempts, setting a new record for single-season rushing yards by a QB, previously held by Michael Vick.
Seth Roberts, Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown paced all pass-catchers, the latter of which caught his seventh touchdown of the season via a 24-yard bomb. On the defensive side of the ball, this was a solid all-around performance albeit unspectacular considering the opponent at hand. Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell had some moments of success in this game but didn’t make a significant impact on the final score.
Defining stat: 7.3 yards per play
What’s next: @ Cleveland Browns - Sunday, Dec. 22 (1:00 p.m. ET)
Patriots defeat Bengals: 34-13
The final score indicates a blowout but fails to tell the whole story. To their credit, the Bengals were giving the reigning champions in the first half. Cincinnati trailed by just three points at halftime but were statistically outplaying their counterpart up until WR Alex Erickson fumbled a punt return with just 1:45 remaining in the second quarter. This set the Patriots up with great field position and they managed to hit a field goal. From there, it was a one-sided affair - one that didn’t favor the Bengals.
QB Andy Dalton threw back-to-back interceptions to begin the third quarter, both of which were picked off by CB Stephon Gilmore and the second was returned 64 yards for a touchdown. Dalton would go on to throw two more interceptions later in the second half and finished the game with just 151 passing yards on 31 attempts. All in all, though, the Bengals finished with more yards than the Patriots on the exact same number of plays.
If there was a bright spot, it was the play of RB Joe Mixon, whose emergence over the second half of the season continued. Mixon was unstoppable early in the game and finished with 136 rushing yards on 25 attempts, while also catching three balls for 20 yards.
Defining stat: Five turnovers
What’s next: @ Miami Dolphins - Sunday, Dec. 22 (1:00 p.m. ET)
Cardinals defeat Browns: 38-24
When it rains, it pours . . .
This season has been underwhelming, disappointing and everything in between for the Browns, but their loss to the Cardinals on Sunday may have been the icing on the cake.
Had the Browns won, they would be 7-7 and just one game back of the Steelers and Titans for the final wild card spot in the AFC. Instead, their playoff hopes are now gone and they may finish with less wins than last season. After allowing a 90-yard touchdown drive in the first 4:51 minutes of the game and responding with a turnover, you had a feeling this wasn’t going to be a good day for the Browns. Spoiler alert, it wasn’t.
Cleveland fell into an early 14-0 hole before managing to cut their deficit to just four points in the third quarter. From there, they missed a field goal, punted and allowed 17 unanswered points. RB Nick Chubb continues to be the lone bright spot on an underwhelming offense, but 127 rushing yards and 33-yard touchdown could only do so much. QB Baker Mayfield’s final stat line (30/43, 247 yards, 2 TD) looks fine on paper, but he was far from sharp. On the sideline, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry could be seen sulking on the bench. Landry also appeared to get into a verbal dispute with HC Freddie Kitchens at one point, too, which pretty much sums up Cleveland’s season.
Defining stat: 5.5 yards per pass
What’s next: vs. Baltimore Ravens - Sunday, Dec. 22 (1:00 p.m. ET)
Bills defeat Steelers: 17-10
In one of the more anticipated matchups of the week, the Steelers came up short in a defensive struggle with Buffalo. Neither team could get into much of an offensive rhythm but the Steelers inability to take care of the ball late proved to be the difference. QB Devlin Hodges threw four interceptions, three of which came in the second half and two coming on the team’s final possessions. These turnovers were obviously killer, but the Steelers couldn’t get anything going on the ground and struggled to push the ball downfield, too, which didn’t help matters.
The Bills boast one of the best defenses in the league and the Steelers were once again without WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, so they frankly were just overmatched. On the bright side, Pittsburgh’s defense once again proved up to the challenge, forcing two turnovers of their own and limited the Bills to just 3.4 YPC on the ground. They were able to fluster Josh Allen, too, who completed just 13/25 throws for 139 yards. Pittsburgh is still two games above .500 at 8-6 and has a shot to make the playoffs, but this loss may sting for awhile.
Defining stat: Five turnovers
What’s next: @ New York Jets - Sunday, Dec. 22 (1:00 p.m. ET)