The final week of the regular season has arrived and with it two final AFC North matchups on Sunday. One team has already clinched the top seed in the AFC, another remains in the playoff hunt, while the other two play the final game of their disappointing seasons.
Baltimore Ravens (13-2)
The Ravens enter the final game of their season with essentially nothing to play for after clinching home-field advantage last week, though that shouldn’t stop them from playing hard against their divisional rivals.
Several key players will not play against Pittsburgh this week, most notably quarterback Lamar Jackson. Robert Griffin III will have his opportunity to showcase that he still has it against a top-five defense. Gus Edwards will get the start at running back in Mark Ingram’s absence. Other players who will miss Sunday’s game include, Earl Thomas, Brandon Williams, and Marshal Yanda. Mark Andrews and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown are both expected to miss the game as well.
While the outcome of Sunday’s game has no bearing on the Ravens playoffs seeding at this point, a win over the Steelers would give Baltimore their best regular season record in franchise history at 14-2.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7)
Pittsburgh enters Week 17 fighting for their playoff lives, although they will need a little outside help to get there.
Center Maurkice Pouncey and running back James Conner will both miss Sunday’s game for the Steelers. Quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges will get the start at quarterback in place of the injured Mason Rudolph. Hodges was benched for Rudolph last week after throwing a couple of interceptions.
Pittsburgh’s best chance of making the playoffs is to win against Baltimore while the Tennessee Titans lose to the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Cleveland Browns (6-9)
With their loss to the Ravens last week, the Browns ensured yet another losing season after an offseason filled with postseason aspirations.
After failing to even reach their success of last season (7-8-1), major changes are expected to come Cleveland’s way following this week. Freddie Kitchens is the most obvious to go first. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was seen yelling at Kitchens on the sideline during their loss to Baltimore last week. This is just another example of how the lack of control Kitchens has over the locker room.
Recent rumors have also led to speculation that general manager John Dorsey could be on his way out as well.
Cincinnati Bengals (1-14)
Cincinnati’s horrendous season will finally come to an end this week. It has been a rough start for head coach Zac Taylor, but the future is promising with the Bengals expected to take LSU quarterback and Heisman winner Joe Burrow with the first-overall pick in the draft.
Of course taking Burrow could mean that this is Andy Dalton’s last game in Cincinnati after spending his entire nine-year career there. Star wide receiver A.J. Green could join Dalton on his way out. Green was finally placed on injured reserve after not playing a single game all season.
Despite only winning one game so far in his first season as a head coach, Taylor is expected to be back for the Bengals in 2020. It’s only fair to give Taylor a shot with a young quarterback like Burrow.