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AFC North Roundup: Week 17

The AFC North is sending three teams to the playoffs

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The NFL regular season officially concluded on Sunday, and with it came the end of a wildly entertaining finish in the AFC North. After wins by the Browns and Ravens on Sunday, the division will have three representatives in the postseason for the first time since 2014 and just the third time since 1989.

Cleveland hung on for a two-point win against the Steelers, who rested a handful of starters, while the Ravens defeated the Bengals by 35 points on the road. Cincinnati finishes the year at the bottom of the division standings.

Updated Standings:

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
  2. Baltimore Ravens 11-5
  3. Cleveland Browns 11-5
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 4-11-1

Browns defeat Steelers: 24-22

The Browns had a simple task heading into Sunday. With a win over the Steelers, they would punch their ticket to the postseason for the first time since 2002. A loss would mean the Browns needed help from other teams to remain in the playoff picture.

It wasn’t perfect nor necessarily pretty, but the Browns made enough plays for the former to occur.

Cleveland jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead early in the second quarter and appeared headed for a potential lopsided victory. However, three straight scoreless possessions saw the Steelers trim the deficit to only one point just after halftime. The Browns responded expanding the lead once again, orchestrating a 76-yard touchdown drive midway through the third quarter.

Only a few plays later, CB M.J. Stewart Jr. intercepted Mason Rudolph in Steelers territory and set the Browns offense up to capitalize — which they did with another quick touchdown courtesy of Jarvis Landry. Leading 24-9 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Browns again saw their lead evaporate in a matter of minutes.

Cleveland’s defense ceded 14 unanswered points, in-between which the Browns offense turned the ball over on downs. Possessions ultimately worked in the Browns favor, though, as a three-yard rush by Baker Mayfield on 3rd-&-2 with 1:10 remaining ensured the Steelers wouldn’t get the ball back.

The Browns rekindled their success running the ball, churning out a team total of 192 yards on the ground with an average of 6.2 yards per carry. Nick Chubb led the way with a rejuvenated performance, rushing 14 times for over 100 yards and a touchdown.

Defining stat: 2-of-3 in the red zone

What’s next: @ Pittsburgh Steelers — Sunday, Jan. 10 (8:15 p.m. ET)

Steelers lose to Browns: 22-24

From the Steelers perspective, it’s hard to take too much away from this game. Pittsburgh essentially waved the white flag before the ball was even kicked off, as HC Mike Tomlin’s decision to rest QB Ben Roethlisberger and several other starters indicated that the Steelers were already looking ahead towards next weekend.

With this in mind, it’s encouraging that the Steelers overcame two double-digit deficits and found themselves just three points away from winning late in the fourth quarter.

Mason Rudolph and company put themselves behind the eight ball early. The first three offensive drives for the Steelers ended with punts, a span in which the Browns scored 10 points to take a quick lead. Then, when the Steelers did begin to move the ball late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter, they struggled to finish drives — settling for three straight field goals.

An interception with 1:42 remaining in the third quarter was costly, as it teed the Browns up to score a second straight touchdown and take a 15-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Steelers put together back-to-back touchdown drives and appeared to have Cleveland reeling late, but didn’t get a final chance to win the game in the end.

All in all, the Steelers wound up with more total yards than the Browns and only three less first downs despite. Had they been at full strength, it’s fair to assume the game may have gone differently. We shall find out next week when the Browns and Steelers rematch each other in the Wild Card round.

Defining stat: -1 turnover differential

What’s next: vs. Cleveland Browns — Sunday, Jan. 10 (8:15 p.m. ET)

Ravens defeat Bengals: 38-3

Like the Browns, the Ravens only needed to win to clinch a third consecutive trip to the postseason. They did just this against the Bengals on Sunday and left no stone unturned.

Aside from an interception off a batted pass in the second quarter, the Ravens were near flawless in the first half — manufacturing 17 points on three drives and leading by 14 points after two quarters of play. Frankly, the game wasn’t as close as the score indicated either, as the Ravens outgained Cincinnati by 183 yards and held a 12-3 advantage in first downs.

The third quarter is where things got out of hand. Amidst the defense forcing two punts and an interception, the Ravens scored 21 quick points across three straight touchdown drives. Two of these scores came courtesy of J.K. Dobbins, including a highlight 72-yard touchdown run just before the fourth quarter.

It was after this play, which expanded the Ravens lead to 38-3, that Lamar Jackson was pulled from the game for backup Tyler Huntley at quarterback. Jackson’s day saw him complete 10-of-18 passes with three touchdowns, but his biggest contribution came via 97 rushing yards — which brought him over 1,000 on the year for the second straight season.

As a team, the Ravens rushed the fourth-most yards ever in a single game (407). They came just 16 short of tying the record of 423 yards from 1959, a number they easily could have hit had they not taken their foot off the gas before the fourth quarter.

It was another steamrolling performance from the Ravens rushing attack and offense overall, who now enter the postseason having won five straight games.

Defining stat: 407 rushing yards

What’s next: @ Tennessee Titans — Sunday, Jan. 10 (1:00 p.m. ET)

Bengals lose to Ravens: 3-38

This description will be kept relatively short and sweet.

The Bengals scored three points and allowed 38, converted only 1-of-9 attempts on third down, were outgained in yardage 525 to 195, and possessed the ball for just under 20 minutes in the entire game.

They’ll be picking in the Top-5 of the draft in a few months.

Defining stat: See above . . .

What’s next: Offseason