Week 15 was a turning point in the AFC North. With a comeback win in Tampa Bay, the Bengals seized first place in the division for the first time this season. They took a one-game lead over the Ravens, who lost their first in-division game of the year to the Browns.
The Browns and Steelers remain in lock-step record wise. The Steelers improved to 6-8 with a victory over the Panthers, but they remain behind Cleveland in the standings by virtue of tiebreaker.
Result: Loss to Cleveland Browns, 3-13
The Ravens entered Saturday’s game undefeated against divisional opponents on the season. That changed after they scored a season-low three points in Cleveland and lost by their worst deficit of the year — 10 points.
Offensively, it was continued tough sledding for Baltimore. The Ravens dominated running the football for a second straight week as J.K. Dobbins (125 yards) and Gus Edwards (55 yards, 7.1 yards per carry) had no issues against the Browns’ defensive front. However, the Ravens found minimal success throwing the ball and could not finish drives.
The Ravens turned the ball over on downs three times; on the first drive of the game and back-to-back times in the fourth quarter. They also missed two field goal attempts, one which was blocked, and turned the ball over consecutively to begin the second half.
Tyler Huntley, starting for the second straight week, averaged 4.6 yards per attempt despite throwing the ball 30 times. The Ravens’ pass-catchers once again made a minimal impact, as no one had more than 31 yards receiving. Trailing 13-3 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens essentially abandoned the run despite having far more success on the ground then through the air.
Result: Win over Baltimore Ravens, 13-3
In Deshaun Watson’s home debut, the Browns had another uneven offensive performance, as they totaled less than 300 total yards, went 5-for-15 on third down, and averaged less than five yards per play. However, thanks to a stout showing from their pass defense and solid situational play, they emerged victorious.
Cleveland led only 6-3 at halftime after a muddy showing from both teams through two quarters. The Browns grasped momentum early in the third quarter, though, thanks to back-to-back forced turnovers and a long touchdown drive.
Following a Denzel Ward interception in the Browns’ own territory, Watson and company cooked up a 12-play, 91-yard drive that took over six minutes off the clock. The Browns never scored again after that but missed two field goals, so they ultimately could have finished with more than their final total of 13 points.
On their final three defensive possessions of the game, the Browns blocked a field goal and got two stops on fourth down. Nick Chubb picked up steam in the fourth quarter to help the Browns chew clock and grind the game away in their favor.
Result: Win over Carolina Panthers, 24-16
The Steelers got back in the win column after a loss to the Ravens in Week 14, defeating the Carolina Panthers in a road matchup. Mitchell Trubisky drew the start in place of Kenny Pickett and the Steelers grinded out an eight-point win thanks to a stingy defensive outing.
Pittsburgh’s defense held the Panthers to just 209 total yards and completely shut down a formidable rushing attack. Carolina mustered only 21 rushing yards on 16 carries — an average yards per carry mark of 1.3.
Leading 14-7 to begin the second half, the Steelers’ offense orchestrated a 91-yard drive that lasted a whopping 11 minutes and 43 seconds. The Steelers ran 21 plays before Trubisky rushed for a one-yard touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 14-point lead. The Panthers scored three consecutive field goals but could never score the touchdown they needed.
The Steelers were committed to the run offensively. They attempted a whopping 45 carries as a team and rushed for 156 yards overall. While it wasn’t an efficient showing, they did score all three of their touchdowns on the ground, and this approach helped them control the time of possession by nearly 13 full minutes.
Result: Win over Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 30-17
Having won 7 consecutive games entering this weekend, the Bengals certainly looked to a prime “trap game” victim through two quarters in Tampa Bay. They trailed 17-3 at halftime and were thoroughly outplayed by the Buccaneers on both sides of the ball. Then, they flipped a switch and never looked back.
After forcing a turnover on downs to begin the third quarter, the Bengals proceeded to score 24 straight unanswered points. During this span, they forced three consecutive turnovers and capitalized with touchdowns off all of them.
Then, a fourth touchdown pass from Joe Burrow late in the fourth quarter capped off a 13-play drive and gave the Bengals a 34-17 advantage. Cincinnati wasn’t particularly explosive offensively, as they averaged 4.5 yards per play with well under 300 total yards. On the ground, they rushed for 53 yards and averaged 2.5 yards per carry.
However, their massive advantage in the turnover department and efficiency to score touchdowns in a hurry proved to be the difference.