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AFC North Preview, Week 16: Ravens in primetime again, Bengals face Steelers on the road

Taking a look ahead for the AFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens (11-3)

The AFC-leading Ravens will be looking the extend their current winning streak to five in a row in Week 16. They travel to the West Coast to take on the NFC-leading San Francisco 49ers, in what many pundits believe is a potential Super Bowl preview. This highly anticipated interconference clash will take place on Christmas day, played on Monday Night Football. Baltimore finds themselves in unfamiliar yet preferable territory as underdogs and their favored hosts who have won six straight since returning from their bye in Week 9. It will mark the second straight road primetime game for the Ravens before they finish up the regular season with back-to-back home games against AFC opponents.

This will be the first time that these two teams will have met in the regular season since 2019 during Lamar Jackson’s unanimous MVP campaign. That game was played in Charm City on a wet and sloppy day and went down to the wire before ultimately being decided by a 49-yard Justin Tucker field goal. The Ravens have won three out of their last four meetings dating back to 2011, including a 34-31 victory in Super Bowl 47.

The Ravens head into this game with seven players listed on the injury report but only two didn’t practice on Thursday which were second-year cornerback Jayln Armour-Davis (concussion) and veteran wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (illness). Undrafted rookie outside linebacker Malik Hamm (ankle) was the only full participant while first-round rookie Zay Flowers (foot), veteran nickel Arthur Maulet (knee), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (concussion), and free safety Marcus Williams (groin) were all limited.

Cleveland Browns (9-5)

The resilient Joe Flacco-led Browns continue to look like a dangerous team down the stretch despite showing some blemishes but currently sit in the AFC’s fifth seed. They’re coming off their second straight win in which they had to rally from behind. They trailed 17-7 entering the fourth quarter before beating the Chicago Bears at home in dramatic fashion by scoring 13 unanswered.

In Week 16, they’ll be on the road and will face the Houston Texans in an AFC matchup with massive playoff implications as both teams are vying for Wildcard spots with three weeks left in the regular season and can’t afford to lose ground by dropping a conference game that could result in the other getting in on a head-to-head tie breaker.

These two teams will be playing each other for the fourth year in a row dating back to the 2020 season, with the Browns winning each of the last three by an average of of nearly 10 points (8.6). The Texans are heading into this matchup pretty banged up and could be without the second and third overall pick in this year’s draft. That includes standout rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who remains in concussion protocol and still has yet to practice this week.

The players who did not take the practice field on Thursday included offensive guard Joe Bitonio (knee), DE Ogbo Okoronkwo (pectoral), LB Jordan Kunaszyk (calf), LB Anthony Walker (rest, knee), and free safety Juan Thornhill (calf). Cornerback Denzel Ward (shoulder), defensive end Myles Garrett (rest, shoulder), Flacco (calf), running back Jerome Ford (wrist), and center Nick Harris (knee) were the only players dealing with minor injuries who were full participants. The Browns’ short list of limited participants includes the following:

  • RB Kareem Hunt (groin)
  • OT Geron Christian (shoulder)
  • TE David Njoku (knee)
  • C Ethan Pocic (stinger)
  • OG Wyatt Teller (ankle)

Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

The two-time defending AFC North champions are no longer in last place as they continue to find ways to win without their franchise quarterback Joe Burrow, whose season ended over a month ago due to injury. They’ve won three straight games with fifth-year veteran Jake Browning under center. Last week, the former undrafted free agent led a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback against the Minnesota Vikings to force overtime. He led the Bengals to victory over his former team. He’ll have a chance to avenge his first loss as a starter this year when the team travels to Pittsburgh take on their AFC North rivals for the second time this season.

The two teams met in Cincinnati in Week 12 and while the Bengals have rattled off three straight since then, the Steelers have lost three in a row. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh has won 21 of their last 28 matchups dating back to 2010 although. The Bengals have had the upper hand as of late, though, winning four of the last seven since Burrow came into the league in 2020 including a season series sweep in 2021.

Instead of a faceoff between two former first-round quarterbacks, this matchup will feature a pair of backups. It will be Browning and fellow fifth-year veteran Mason Rudolph, who was recently named the Steelers’ starter for this game over former No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky.

The Bengals had seven players listed on their injury report this week and all but one was a full participant in the final practice of the week on Thursday. Unfortunately, their one non-participant was two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (shoulder) who hadn’t practiced all week and was ruled out for this crucial matchup.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)

A month ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Mike Tomlin and his band of misfits would grind their way into the playoffs given their soft schedule and proclivity for pulling out ugly wins through their first 10 games.

Now they find themselves on the outside looking in after dropping their last three games in embarrassing fashion. That included back-to-back losses to a pair of two-win teams and blowing a double-digit over the Indianapolis Colts. They’ll be playing on Saturday for the second week in a row when they host the Bengals in the first of the day’s two games.

The Steelers had nine players listed on their injury report this week and only half were full participants in the final practice of the week on Thursday. Defensive back Elijah Riley (ankle) is listed as questionable while fellow defensive back Trenton Thompson (neck), All-Pro free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee), and second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett (ankle) were ruled out.