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AFC North Recap, Week 9: The wins keep on coming

Another sweep of victories across the division

Seattle Seahawks v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The AFC North continues to stake its claim as the best division in football and this past Sunday was yet another reinforcer of that. In Week 9, all four teams in the division won, meaning everyone has at least five wins and is two or more games above .500.

The Ravens are tied for the second best record in the NFL while the Steelers, Browns, and Bengals are locked into a three-way tie at 5-3 each. If the playoffs started today, all four of these squads would make the playoffs, accounting for more than half of the AFC’s postseason bracket.

Updated standings:

  1. Baltimore Ravens 7-2
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers 5-3
  3. Cleveland Browns 5-3
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 5-3

Pittsburgh Steelers

Result: Win over Tennessee Titans, 20-16

The Steelers kicked off the football weekend with a narrow win over the Titans on Thursday night. It was a stereotypical Steelers’ performance this season: they trailed heading into the fourth quarter, were outplayed offensively, and yet ultimately found a way to win late.

Pittsburgh took an early lead with an uncharacteristic 10-play, 78-yard opening touchdown drive. Then, both teams traded field goals largely for the middle portion of the game, with the Titans gaining a 16-13 advantage before the final frame of play.

With just over nine minutes remaining, the Steelers drove 92 yards in 11 plays to score a go-ahead touchdown — capped off by a three-yard catch in the end zone from wide receiver Diontae Johnson. On their next two drives, the Steelers’ defense forced a turnover on downs and had a game-sealing interception with 19 seconds remaining.

The most promising development for the Steelers in this game was their newfound success running the ball. As a team, the Steelers rushed for an efficient 166 yards on 30 attempts, with both Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren having productive outings.

Baltimore Ravens

Result: Win over Seattle Seahawks, 37-3

For the second time in the past three weeks, the Ravens dismantled a division-leading NFC team at home by 30+ points. This time, the victim was the Seahawks, who were outplayed thoroughly and defeated by 34 points after entering the game as a six-point underdog.

Following a scoreless first quarter, the Ravens closed the first half on an 17-3 run to take a two-possession lead into the break. From there, their momentum only continued, as they scored 20 straight points on four drives to open the second half. Meanwhile, the Seahawks’ offense was suffocated by the Ravens’ top-ranked defense all afternoon.

Against one of the league’s best run defenses, the Ravens rushed for a whopping 298 yards as a team and averaged 7.3 yards per carry. Three players had 50+ rushing yards, led by rookie Keaton Mitchell, who had a breakout performance with 138 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries.

The Ravens had 29 first downs and 515 total yards of offense while possessing the ball for over 40 minutes. In comparison, the Seahawks mustered just six total first downs and went 1-of-12 on third down attempts. They had 151 combined yards and lost the time of possession battle — and every battle — decisively.

Cleveland Browns

Result: Win over Arizona Cardinals, 27-0

Speaking of blowout wins, that’s exactly what the Browns did on Sunday as well. Cleveland pitched a shutout against the same one-win Cardinals team that made things interesting against the Ravens in Week 8, cruising to a 27-point thrashing victory.

The Browns were not perfect offensively, as they averaged only 2.8 yards per carry while converting 6-of-17 third down attempts. They averaged 4.6 yards per play overall, too. However, as has been the case for much of the season, the story of the day was their defense.

Arizona gained only seven first downs and converted one successful third down conversion attempt out of 12 tries. They had less than 100 yards of total offense, did not reach the red zone once, and the Browns collected three turnovers off of them. Cleveland’s defense suffocated rookie quarterback Clayton Tune.

The Browns scored on five total drives, which could have six if not for a missed 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. In his return to the starting lineup, quarterback Deshaun Watson completed 19-of-30 passes for 219 yards with two touchdowns.

Cincinnati Bengals

Result: Win over Cincinnati Bengals, 24-18

On Sunday night, the Bengals returned home and continued their midseason surge and turnaround. Cincinnati defeated another five-win team in the Bills, who they’ve had success over in recent matchups. Both teams traded early touchdowns but the Bengals gained momentum from there on out.

Once the Bengals went up 14-7 in the first quarter, their defense forced two punts and intercepted Josh Allen on three straight drives to close the first half. The Bills made things interesting late with a fourth quarter touchdown to trim the deficit to single digits, but the Bengals closed the door with a key third down pickup to run out the clock.

The Bengals had 20+ first downs again with just a shade under 400 total yards of offense, the majority of which came through the air. Joe Burrow threw the ball 44 times and completed 31 passes for 348 yards, a season-high mark, and two touchdowns.

Cincinnati held a decisive advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for roughly 13 more minutes than the Bills. Wide receiver Tee Higgins had his most productive game of the season with eight catches for 110 yards — a welcome sign especially given Ja’Marr Chase suffered an injury.