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AFC North Preview, Week 17: Playoff implications on the line

There’s a lot at stake for the division this week

Atlanta Falcons v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

With two weeks remaining in the 2022 NFL Regular Season, the fate of the AFC North appears destined to come down to a Week 18 showdown between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.

Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)

The Bengals are in control of their own destiny now with two games remaining on the schedule, needing only a win over the Ravens in Week 18 to clinch the AFC North for the second year in a row. This week’s game is still crucial for Cincinnati as they push to move into one of the AFC’s top two seeds against the No. 1 seed Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. The Bengals are currently 1-point underdogs at home against the Bills, according to DraftKings Sportsbook .

The reigning AFC champions have expressed their confidence ahead of Monday’s anticipated matchup. “At the end of the day, what people got to realize and understand, we the big dog of the AFC and that’s just what it is,” running back Joe Mixon said following Cincinnati’s Saturday practice. “For anything to happen, it goes through us.”

The Bengals’ offensive line lost a key piece this week as starting right tackle La’el Collins was placed on Injured Reserve with a torn ACL. Either Isaiah Prince or Hakeem Adiniji will fill Collin’s spot on Monday night. In good news, tight end Hayden Hurst was removed from the injury report and is expected to play against Buffalo. Meanwhile, defensive end Sam Hubbard is questionable to play with a calf injury.

Baltimore Ravens (10-5)

Baltimore clinched a playoff berth with their victory over the Atlanta Falcons last week, but John Harbaugh’s squad is still pushing for the division title, even with starting quarterback Lamar Jackson sidelined with a knee injury. The Ravens must first go through the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. Baltimore is currently favored by 2.5 points at home, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

Jackson is expected to miss his fourth-straight game this Sunday with the knee sprain he suffered against the Denver Broncos early in December. The Ravens remain hopeful to get their star quarterback back in time for the playoffs, but in the meantime, Tyler Huntley will continue to get the start in his absence.

Alongside Jackson, starting cornerback Marcus Peters has also been ruled out for Sunday night’s contest with a calf injury. Veteran defense end Calais Campbell (knee) returned to practice in a limited capacity on Friday and is listed as questionable. The 36-year-old is just one sack away from hitting the 100 mark for his esteemed career.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)

The Steelers continue to hang around in the AFC playoff conversation following their 13-10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 16. Alongside a small shot at making the postseason, Pittsburgh will fight to keep Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s 15-year streak of never finishing with a record below .500 alive. First up is a rematch with their biggest rivals on Sunday Night Football as 2.5-point road underdogs, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett is back to play Baltimore after being knocked out of their previous meeting with a concussion early in the game. The first-rounders performance has steadily improved over the course of his first NFL season and he will have a prime opportunity to showcase that against a tough defense on Sunday night.

Initially listed as questionable with a toe injury, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was removed from the injury report on Saturday and is expected to play on Sunday. Linebacker Myles Jack (groin) is listed as questionable. Meanwhile, safety Terrell Edmunds is set to return after missing last week’s game against the Raiders.

Cleveland Browns (6-9)

The Cleveland Browns were finally eliminated from the playoffs following their Week 16 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The Browns will now hit the road to take on the Washington Commanders as 2.5-point underdogs, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

Cleveland took a gigantic swing at the quarterback position this offseason when they traded for Deshaun Watson amidst a litany of sexual assault and harassment allegations. So far, the results have been lackluster on the field in his return from an 11-game suspension. “The progress is continuing to grow each and every week,” Watson said. “The stats might not show it and it might not say it, but right now this is, like I said before, this is not about any statistics or anything like that. It’s about me improving as a quarterback, getting back in the rhythm, getting in the rhythm of this offense and this team.”

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (concussion) is questionable to play on Sunday. No other players were listed on the Browns’ injury report ahead of of their showdown with the Commanders.