As the home stretch of the regular season nears, every game remains pivotal for all four teams in the AFC North. That’s especially true considering three squads out of the division are in the current playoff picture, which has been the case for much of the year.
Week 12 saw the Steelers defeat the Bengals in the lone divisional showdown of the weekend, putting Pittsburgh three games above .500 again. It marked the Bengals’ third consecutive loss, putting their slipping postseason hopes on life alert.
Elsewhere, the Browns were handedly defeated in Denver while the Ravens strengthened their lead atop the division following a win on Sunday night.
Result: Loss to Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-16
In what unsurprisingly was a low-scoring affair, the Bengals came out on the losing end of a divisional matchup for the fourth time this season. This was their first game against the Steelers this season and did not go swimmingly on the offensive side of the ball.
All eyes were on how the team’s offense would perform in Jake Browning’s first career start in-place of Joe Burrow at quarterback. The Bengals mustered just 10 first downs on the day with 222 total yards. They lost the time of possession battle by roughly 15 minutes and converted 2-of-10 third down attempts. So, needless to say it was not a great showing.
Cincinnati’s rushing attack provided next to nothing in terms of relief for their quarterback. They ran the ball 11 times as a team for a total of 25 yards on the ground. Browning accounted for nine of them with Joe Mixon gaining 16 yards on eight carries.
The Bengals held a 7-3 lead at halftime with their defense performing well. They gave up consecutive 10+ play drives to begin the second half, though, and three straight scoring drives overall. During that span, they coughed up an interception and punted the ball twice.
Result: Win over Cincinnati Bengals, 16-7
For the Steelers, all eyes were also on the offense, specifically how they would look in the first game since Matt Canada was fired. Their changes in the offensive coaching staff saw the team produce 400+ yards of offense for the first time in well over 50 games and outgain their opponent for the first time this season.
Ultimately the Steelers’ 16 points scored was right in-line with their average for the season. However, they moved the ball more consistently and produced more big plays. They converted 8-of-17 third down attempts and had 22 first downs, 15 of which were passing.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 278 yards, his highest mark of the year, while completing over 70% of his passes. He had long completions of 43, 39, and 29 yards to three different pass-catchers. Tight end Pat Freiermuth was the biggest beneficiary of the new play-calling, as he caught nine passes for 120 receiving yards.
The Steelers’ defense had little issues against Browning and the Bengals’ offense, which was missing starting wide receiver Tee Higgins. They limited the Bengals to only two third down conversions and allowed them to hold the ball for just over 20 minutes.
Result: Loss to Denver Broncos, 12-29
The Browns three-game win streak was snapped on the road, as they succumbed to an even more red-hot Broncos team. This was Cleveland’s first loss since October 29 and wasn’t particularly close, as they lost by 17 points and never lead.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed 14-of-29 passes for only 134 yards in his first career start away from home. He suffered a concussion injury in the middle of the game was replaced by P.J. Walker, who was not any more successful. The Browns’ offense struggled on third down, converting just two of their 13 attempts, and turned the ball over on downs three separate times.
They were efficient running the ball, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on 24 times. However, because they fell into an early 14-0 hole, the game script was not favorable for establishing the run. It also did not help that they lost three fumbles, which the Broncos scored 10 of their points off of.
The most concerning development is the shoulder injury suffered by star pass-rusher Myles Garrett, who left the game wearing a sling around his arm. The Browns recorded just one sack and four quarterback hits on Russell Wilson.
Result: Win over Los Angeles Chargers, 20-10
The Ravens earned a second straight victory in primetime, securing their AFC-high ninth win of the season. In doing so, they reclaimed sole possession of the No. 1 seed in the conference, while widening their first-place lead in the division.
It wasn’t the prettiest victory, but a double-digit advantage nonetheless. Baltimore scored 10 points and led by a touchdown at halftime. They left potential points on the board with two turnover on downs and failed to challenge two apparent miscalls on third down, where they were marked short but were given a bad spot.
Two punts and a missed field goal on consecutive possessions in the second half allowed the Chargers to creep back into the game. They regained possession with a chance to tie or take the lead late in the fourth quarter, but the stalwart Ravens’ defense forced a turnover on downs.
The Ravens clamped down on Justin Herbert and the Chargers’ offense. They produced four takeaways, three of which were forced fumbles, while limiting them to 4.2 yards per play and just two scoring drives. It was Baltimore’s uneven offensive performance that kept the game closer than it otherwise could have been.