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AFC North Roundup: Wild Card

Survive and advance.

Wild Card Round - Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

For the first time in several years, three teams from the AFC North took the field in Round 1 of the postseason this weekend. The Ravens took on the Titans, while the Browns and Steelers did battle on Sunday night in Pittsburgh.

Baltimore advanced to the Divisional Round with a seven-point win in Tennessee, while the Browns earned an upset victory over the Steelers by 11 points. The Ravens and Browns will be playing next week and the Steelers now join the Bengals on the couch.

Ravens defeat Titans: 20-13

In a rematch of last year’s Divisional Round showdown, the Ravens got revenge on the Titans with a 20-13 victory — marking the team’s first playoff win since 2014 and their first win against Tennessee since 2018.

Baltimore’s first two drives resulted in a three-and-out and interception, which saw the Titans take a 10-0 lead into the second quarter. The Ravens overcame a slow start, though, and evened the score by halftime. Lamar Jackson’s 48-yard rushing touchdown with just over two minutes remaining before the break gave the Ravens a spark they needed.

To begin the second half, the Ravens put together a 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive in a shade under six minutes of play. Four of the 10 plays during the possession gained first downs and J.K. Dobbins capped off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run, his 10th of the season, to give the Ravens their first lead of the game at 17-10.

Tennessee scored a field goal late in the third quarter, which marked their only points after the first quarter in the entire game and is a perfect segway into the real story of the afternoon for the Ravens: the defense.

“Wink” Martindale’s group dominated the Titans up front. Derrick Henry was held to a season-low 40 rushing yards on 18 carries, a far cry from the 195 yards he had against the Ravens in last year’s playoff matchup. Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and Brandon Williams, among others, closed gaps, tackled well, and were strong at the point of attack.

Ryan Tannehill threw over 100 passing yards in the first quarter but finished with just 165 for the game. The Titans entered this game with the No. 4 scoring offense and ranked third in yardage per game on the season. They mustered only 13 points and 209 yards in this game.

Following Marcus Peters’ interception with just under two minutes remaining in the game, the Ravens ran five more plays and gained two first downs to ice a 20-13 win.

The biggest storyline to come out of this game is of course Lamar Jackson winning his first career postseason game. Jackson completed 17-of-24 passes for 179 yards, adding 136 rushing yards of 16 attempts. Marquise Brown was his go-to target in the passing game, catching 7-of-9 targets for 109 receiving yards.

Defining stat: 6.7 yards per carry

What’s next: @ Buffalo Bills — Saturday, Jan. 16 (8:15 p.m. ET)

Browns defeat Steelers: 48-37

The odds were stacked against the Browns heading into this matchup — their first playoff appearance since 2002 — for obvious reasons. Because of a COVID-19 outbreak several days ago, the Browns facility was closed for most of the week and they were without the services of HC Kevin Stefanski for this tilt against the Steelers.

You wouldn’t have been able to guess any of this by watching Sunday night’s game, however. Instead, the Browns came out prepared and aggressive in a huge way.

Cleveland dominated the Steelers on both sides of the football in the first half. The very first play of the game saw Karl Joseph recover a fumbled snap in the end zone to give the Browns a 7-0 lead less then a minute into the game. Then, the Browns forced a punt, an interception, another punt, and ANOTHER interception.

Working with short field position, the Browns scored three touchdowns in a row to take a whopping 28-0 lead by the end of the first quarter (!). Pittsburgh scored 10 points before halftime but the Browns still held a 25-point lead, making their win probability skyrocket through the roof.

Cleveland’s offense went a bit cold to begin the second half, punting three straight times while the Steelers cut their deficit to 12 points. As doubt began to creep in, though, the Browns responded by scoring 13 points on the next three possessions. D

Their defense gave up 27 points in the final two quarters and a heck of a lot of yards, but the Browns still managed to win by 11 points — a remarkable achievement given the adversity they had were up against.

This marks the Browns first playoff win since the 1990s. They’ll look to carry any momentum into Kansas City next week, where they face the daunting task of upsetting the reigning Super Bowl champions and No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Defining stat: +5 turnover differential

What’s next: @ Kansas City Chiefs — Sunday, Jan. 17 (3:05 p.m. ET)

Steelers lose to Browns: 37-48

If you wanted to see the definition of a “tough scene”, look no further than the first quarter of this football game for the Steelers. They turned the ball over three times, gained a net total 13 yards, and were outscored 28-0.

It was a remarkable display of sloppiness and unpreparedness from Mike Tomlin’s squad, who seemingly should have an advantage in this area considering the Browns had little practice time during the week. It wasn’t until late in the second quarter that the Steelers finally got things going a bit offensively — but it was already too little, too late.

Pittsburgh scored 27 of their 37 points in the second half but at no point trailed by less than 10 points after 9:46 mark in the first quarter of this game. Ben Roethlisberger wound up attempting a whopping 68 pass attempts, completing 47 of them for 501 passing yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Steelers dominated this game in the box score but the stats were empty, as a good chunk of them came in garbage time and ultimately meant little in the final result.

In the big picture, this is an incredibly disappointing loss for the Steelers. They began the season with an 11-0 record and appeared primed for a potential deep playoff run, but won just one of their final 5 games to end the year. In the end, they won the AFC North but wound up being the third best team in the division.

Now, they enter the offseason with perhaps more questions than answers.

Defining stat: -5 turnover differential

What’s next: Offseason