With two weeks left in the regular season, the AFC North is beginning to get more and more interesting down the home stretch.
The Steelers’ once-sizeable advantage atop the division has now shrunk to just one game over the Browns and two games over the Ravens. Baltimore picked up a third straight victory on Sunday and the Browns improved to 10-4 with a win over the Giants on SNF.
Pittsburgh was upset by the Bengals on Monday night by a score of 27-17. The Steelers have now lost three games in a row and need to right the ship in a hurry with their hopes of a division title now being in jeopardy.
- Pittsburgh Steelers 11-3
- Cleveland Browns 10-4
- Baltimore Ravens 9-5
- Cincinnati Bengals 3-10-1
Ravens defeat Jaguars: 40-14
The only AFC North squad competing in the Sunday afternoon window was the Ravens, who cruised to a 26-point victory over the lifeless Jaguars.
Baltimore’s offensive resurgence during the latter stretch of the season continued, as they scored 40+ points for the second straight week. Dating back to Week 12, the Ravens have now scored a combined 121 points over their past three games.
The Jaguars had no answers for Lamar Jackson and company. Jackson threw an interception on the Ravens opening drive, underthrowing a deep attempt to Marquise Brown. From that point on, though, the Ravens came away with points on nearly all of their offensive possessions.
Jackson shook off his early mistake and only misfired on four additional passes the entire day. He completed 17-of-22 throws for 243 passing yards and three touchdown passes, good for a passer rating of 133.1, while also adding 35 rushing yards and another score on the ground.
Baltimore outgained the Jaguars by nearly 200 total yards in the first half and held a 26-0 advantage after two quarters. The second half was more balanced on paper, but the damage Jacksonville did was in garbage time and meant nothing towards the final result.
For a second straight game, the Ravens converted on 100% of their red zone tries and converted on 8-of-12 third down conversions. With over 200 yards through the air and 159 rushing yards, it was a well-rounded and balanced offensive showing.
Defining stat: 5/5 in the red zone
What’s next: vs. New York Giants — Sunday, Dec. 28 (1:00 p.m. ET)
Browns defeat Giants: 20-6
After a 42-point explosion against the Ravens last week, the Browns offense took a step back in Week 16. However, their defense stepped up and held the Giants to just six points and under 300 yards of offense.
Both teams got off to a slow start, trading turnover on downs on back-to-back possessions on the first two drives. After ceding a field goal to New York, though, the Browns put together consecutive touchdown drives of 10+ plays to take a 13-3 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Cleveland punted on 75% of their possessions. However, their lone scoring drive of 14 plays and 75 yards, which ended in a one-yard score from Nick Chubb, was enough to widen their cushion. The Browns defense gave up only 133 yards and three points in the final two quarters of play.
Offensively, the Browns had one of their worst rushing performances in recent memory. Chubb churned out just 50 yards on 15 attempts and Kareem Hunt was even more ineffective (3.0 yards per carry). As a team, Cleveland totaled only 105 rushing yards.
What compensated for this, though, was another strong performance from Baker Mayfield under center. Mayfield was remarkably efficient and potent, completing all but five of his 32 pass attempts for 297 yards and two touchdowns — with no turnovers. He finished with an impressive passer rating of 126.2.
Mayfield’s play has picked up significantly over the past several weeks, which has corresponded with the Browns winning more football games. Rashard Higgins (76 receiving yards) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (55 receiving yards) continue to emerge in the absence of Odell Beckham Jr. at the wide receiver position.
Bengals defeat Steelers: 27-17
The Bengals entered Sunday night having lost five straight games. Against an 11-win Steelers team, Cincinnati was a double-digit underdog at home. Instead of rolling over, they flipped the script and WON by double digits — in what should be considered one of the biggest upsets of the season.
Cincinnati got off to another sluggish start, going three-and-out on their first two drives and missing a field goal just a few minutes later. However, their defense clamped down on the Steelers during this stretch and began to make plays on the ball.
Following the 55-yard misfire from K Austin Seibert, DB Vonn Bell laid a crushing hit on JuJu Smith-Schuster across the middle of the field and forced a fumble. Ryan Finley and the Bengals offense capitalized with a seven-play touchdown drive to take a 10-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Mackensie Alexander came up with an interception to set the Bengals up with great field position. Yet again they cashed in with another touchdown and held a 17-0 lead at halftime. The Steelers scored 10 unanswered points to begin the third quarter and cut the deficit back to seven points later in the second half, but the Bengals held strong.
Cincinnati held a 24-17 lead with just over two minutes remaining and punted the ball back to the Steelers. The Bengals defense forced four incompletions in a row and added another field goal with under a minute remaining to seal the deal.
For the first time in forever, running the ball worked wonders for the Bengals offense. Finley attempted only 13 passes all night but wound up with 10 rushes for 47 yards and a touchdown. Giovani Bernard saw 25 attempts and scored twice. Overall, the Bengals rushed a whopping 41 times for 152 yards — wearing the Steelers down in key moments.
Defining stat: 17 points off turnovers
What’s next: @ Houston Texans — Sunday, Dec. 28 (1:00 p.m. ET)
Steelers lose to Bengals: 24-17
Yikes . . . where to begin?
What was supposed to be a “get right” game for a reeling Steelers team turned out to be more of a disaster, as the Steelers were flat for the third consecutive game. Everything offensively was a struggle and they were especially careless with the ball in the first half.
Pittsburgh coughed up the ball three times in four possessions and the Bengals scored 17 points off of the miscues. When they didn’t turn the ball over, they punted it right away — as all of their other drives in the first two quarters were three-and-outs.
The Steelers forced a punt to begin the third frame and put together a quick 67-yard scoring drive to trim the deficit to 10 points. After adding another field goal, there was reason to believe that they could erase a one-possession disadvantge and ultimately squeak out a victory.
However, after another three-and-out towards the end of the third quarter, the Bengals put together a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in almost six minutes. The Steelers responded with a touchdown of their own on the next possession, but again forced the issue offensively when it mattered most.
Trailing by seven points late in the game, the Steelers struck out on four attempts to gain positive yardage — as Ben Roethlisberger threw four straight incompletions. Cincinnati regained possession and kicked a game-sealing field goal.
The Steelers converted on just 4-of-16 third down attempts and gained 86 rushing yards on 23 attempts as a team. This, combined with costly turnovers early in the game, proved to be their undoing in a third straight defeat.
Defining stat: -3 turnover differential
What’s next: vs. Indianapolis Colts — Sunday, Dec. 28 (1:00 p.m. ET)