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AFC North Roundup: Week 16

New York Giants v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In the second-to-last week of the regular season, enormous playoff implications were on the line within the AFC North. This remains true heading into Week 17 but after the Steelers and Ravens’ victories and the Browns loss, we have some clarity heading into the season finale.

The Steelers pulled off a miraculous comeback against the Colts and with their win, they clinch the AFC North title. Behind them is the Ravens, who jump the Browns in the standings by virtue of tiebreaker. Baltimore has won four straight games. The Browns fell to the Jets as a result, their playoff window — while still alive and well — narrowed.

Not to be left out is the Bengals, who defeated the Texans to pick up a second straight victory. Cincinnati will have a shot to play spoiler against the Ravens next week.

Updated Standings:

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers 12-3
  2. Baltimore Ravens 10-5
  3. Cleveland Browns 10-5
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 4-10-1

Bengals defeat Texans: 37-31

After upsetting the Steelers on MNF in Week 15, many presumed the Bengals were due to fall back to earth against the Texans on Sunday. That did not come to fruition, as instead the Bengals scored a season-high 37 points and earned a second straight victory.

This was a back-and-forth affair in every sense of the word. At various points in the game, the Bengals held leads of 10-3, 17-10, 24-17, and 27-24. Each time, the Texans came back to temporarily tie the game or take the lead.

The final score indicates a shootout between both offenses — which it was. Cincinnati’s defense regressed from their performance a week ago. They allowed 166 rushing yards despite the Texans attempting just 17 runs, good for a YPC mark of 9.8. Deshaun Watson tossed three touchdown passes and threw for over 320 passing yards.

However, while the Bengals defense allowed nearly 10 yards per play, the offense did the heavy lifting. The Bengals ran 20 more plays than Houston and racked up a total of 540 offensive yards despite both teams having exactly 11 offensive drives.

Brandon Allen drew the start at quarterback and was near-perfect, completing 29-of-37 throws for 371 yards and two touchdowns — with no turnovers — and an impressive rating of 126.5. Allen was able to carve up the Texans secondary but the Bengals also found plenty of success in the running game, which was a factor for the second straight week after being lifeless for much of the year.

Giovani Bernard attempted 16 runs and mustered 65 rushing yards, also adding another 66 yards through the air on seven receptions. Semaje Perine led the way in the backfield, gaining 95 yards on 13 carries and scoring two touchdowns. As a team, the Bengals rushed for 169 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

Defining stat: 7.6 yards per play

What’s next: vs. Cincinnati Bengals — Sunday, Jan. 4 (1:00 p.m. ET)

Browns lose to Jets: 23-16

On a day where the Browns could have clinched a playoff berth with a win, they instead fell behind early and failed to pull off a comeback against the Jets. It was a bit of a head-scratching game for Cleveland, who were playing without each of their four top receivers due to COVID-19 protocols.

Instead of leaning on their dominant running attack, the Browns wound up throwing the ball 53 times after falling behind 20-3 in the second half. For the first time all season, Cleveland was stifled on the ground. As a team, the Browns rushed for just 45 yards on 18 attempts. Both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt averaged less than 3,0 yards per carry.

Cleveland trailed 13-3 at halftime after scoring on just one of their seven drives in the first two quarters. After scoring 13 unanswered points in the third/fourth quarter, the Browns cut their deficit to just one possession and appeared prime to ride momentum to a comeback victory.

However, the Browns final three drives of the game resulted in a punt, fumble, and turnover on downs. The fumble was especially costly, as Baker Mayfield was sacked and stripped of the ball near Cleveland’s own end zone. The Jets recovered and wound up kicking a field goal with just under three minutes remaining.

With one last shot to put together a game-saving drive, Cleveland failed to convert on 4th-&-1 with 1:25 left on the clock — and that was all she wrote.

Mayfield’s 53 pass attempts resulted in just 285 yards and a passer rating of 68.5. With all of their key pass-catchers on the mend, the Browns would have been best-served to get ahead early so they could lean into their run game. The opposite happened and their lack of weapons in the passing game were magnified as a result.

Defining stat: 45 rushing yards

What’s next: vs. Cleveland Browns — Sunday, Jan. 4 (1:00 p.m. ET)

Steelers defeat Colts: 28-24

It was a complete tale of two halves for the Steelers on Sunday. In the first half and early into the third quarter, Pittsburgh looked the same team we’ve seen over the past several weeks. They trailed by multiple touchdowns and were lifeless offensively.

However, with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Steelers flipped a switch and found the juice they so desperately needed. Just a few plays after turning the ball over on downs, Ben Roethlisberger found Diontae Johnson for a 39-yard touchdown pass to trim the Steelers deficit 10 points.

From there, they proceeded to score touchdowns again on back-to-back possessions for a total of 21 unanswered points. Leading 28-24 with a few minutes remaining, the Colts were in the midst of 10+ play drive and crossed midfield. Pittsburgh’s defense buckled down, though, and sealed a victory with a stop on fourth down.

Once again the Steelers did virtually nothing in terms of running the football, bottoming out with just 20 rushing yards on 14 carries as a team. Pittsburgh’s hopes fell on the shoulders of Roethlisberger in the second half, who had looked every bit his age in the first half and in last week’s loss to the Bengals.

Roethlisberger woke up and wound up completing 34-of-49 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns with zero turnovers. The Steelers finally found success pushing the ball down field, an element that had been severely lacking during their recent struggles.

Defining stat: 18 passing first downs

What’s next: @ Chicago Bears — Sunday, Jan. 4 (4:25 p.m. ET)

Ravens defeat Giants: 27-13

In a must-win game for their playoff hopes, the Ravens continued their recent hot streak with a convincing victory over the Giants. Baltimore clicked early and jumped out to a 20-3 lead at halftime and despite being outscored 11-7 in the second half, the Ravens left points on the board when the result was all but decided.

Against the NFL’s sixth-ranked rushing defense in New York, the Ravens attempted 40 rushes and churned out a whopping 249 yards. Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, and Lamar Jackson each recorded 75 or more rushing yards. Edwards turned a team-high 15 carries into 85 yards (5.7 YPC), Jackson rushed 13 times for 80 yards, and Dobbins led the team in YPC (7.2) while scoring a touchdown for the fifth straight game.

Jackson was once again efficient through the air, completing 17-of-26 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson now has 12 total touchdowns over the past four games and continues to find his stride, along with the rest of the offense, late in the season.

The Giants had some success moving the ball at times against an undermanned Ravens secondary but failed to capitalize on drives. Leading by 14 points in the fourth quarter, the Ravens closed the door on any comeback effort by getting two consecutive stops on fourth down to end the game.

Defining stat: 8-of-11 on third down

What’s next: @ Cincinnati Bengals — Sunday, Jan. 4 (1:00 p.m. ET)