With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season and all four AFC North teams in playoff contention, that stakes are high week-after-week. This past weekend, saw three of the four division squads get a win. With that, all four teams are now over .500 again, two are in the current playoff picture and two are just on the outside looking in.
The Ravens won their fifth straight game in convincing fashion on Monday night, giving them 12 wins. They’re in firm position to clinch the division and No. 1 seed in the AFC next week. Meanwhile the Browns also extended their win streak to three and are 10-5 overall.
On Saturday, the Steelers and Bengals did battle with the latter earning a surprising blowout victory at home. That put the Steelers back over .500 and moved them into a record tie with the Bengals, as they each have eight wins and seven losses a piece.
Result: Loss to Pittsburgh Steelers, 11-34
After winning three straight games heading into Week 16, the Bengals had their momentum squashed by the Steelers on the road. Cincinnati turned the ball over three times and scored all 11 of their points in just one quarter while going scoreless in the first half.
The Bengals’ five possessions in the first two quarters ended with two punts, two interceptions, and one turnover on downs just before halftime. Meanwhile, their defense allowed four scoring drives as the Steelers accumulated a huge 24-0 advantage.
Without Ja’Marr Chase in the lineup, the Bengals’ offense still managed 17 total first downs and over 360 yards. However, they failed to convert on two fourth down attempts and went 0-for-3 in the red zone. Quarterback Jake Browning was picked off three total times while the Bengals rushed just 16 times for 59 yards as a team.
The Bengals playoff hopes took a significant blow with the loss, especially considering they remain winless against AFC North opponents this season. To avoid going 0-6 in the division on the year, they’ll have to beat the Cleveland Browns in the season finale. Either way, their tiebreaker prospects are very dim.
Result: Win over Cincinnati Bengals, 34-11
On the flip side of Saturday’s division battle, the Steelers snapped their three-game losing streak with a convincing win. It was their fourth divisional victory of the season, which accounts for half of all of their eight wins overall. More notably, it was their first time winning by more than one possession this year.
The Steelers made a quarterback change to Mason Rudolph and it proved to be a worthwhile decision by Mike Tomlin. Pittsburgh’s offense had 397 total yards, converted 50% of third down attempts, and averaged nearly seven yards per play. Rudolph completed 17 of 27 passes for 290 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Well over half of Rudolph’s production went to wide receiver George Pickens, who dominated with 195 receiving yards and two long touchdown catches. The Steelers weren’t overly efficient on the ground but grinded out over 100 rushing yards on 30 attempts with touchdowns from Najee Harris and Calvin Austin III.
Points off turnovers were a clear difference-maker for the Steelers in this game. Following their three intercepted passes, they scored two touchdowns and a field goal — accounting for half of their 34 points in total. Their defense had eight quarterback hits, three sacks, and four tackles for loss.
Result: Win over Houston Texans, 36-22
The Browns’ late-season resurgence with Joe Flacco under center continued in Houston on Sunday, where they scored 36 points — their second highest total of the season. It marked their third straight victory as they continue to solidify playoff positioning and keep their slim division winner hopes alive.
Cleveland’s offense scored three touchdowns in the first half with a two-point conversion, which helped compensate for two late-second quarter interceptions by Flacco. Their defense allowed no scoring drives at all during the first two quarters; the Texans’ only points came via a 98-yard return touchdown by Dameon Pierce.
To open the third quarter, the Browns scored two more touchdowns on back-to-back long drives, the first of which spanned 18 plays and 94 yards. That gave them an insurmountable 36-7 lead, which two late touchdowns by the Texans only marginally dented into.
The Browns mustered just 54 rushing yards on 30 carries as a team. They shined in the passing game, where Flacco completed 27 passes for 368 yards and three touchdowns. The majority of his production went to wide receiver Amari Cooper, who put up a record-setting performance with 11 catches, 265 receiving yards and two scores.
Result: Win over San Francisco 49ers, 33-19
In the biggest game of the week featuring the top two teams in each conference, the Ravens prevailed in convincing fashion. The Ravens overcame a shaky start to explode in the middle of the game against the 49ers, coasting to a 33-19 victory on the road.
It was a dominant defensive performance from Mike Macdonald’s top-ranked unit against a high-octane offense in San Francisco. The Ravens made life extremely difficult for Brock Purdy, intercepting the second-year standout quarterback four times through three quarters. They got another closeout interception off Sam Darnold late in the game, giving them five total takeaways on the night.
The Ravens scored on seven straight drives from midway through the first quarter into the second half. They settled for field goals several times but cashed in with points off turnovers, which was paramount. Despite not being overly effective running the ball, the Ravens were able to pour in 30+ points for the seventh time this year.
Lamar Jackson completed 23-of-35 passes for 252 yards through the air with two touchdowns, topped off with another 46 rushing yards. Eight different pass-catchers got a reception with rookie wideout Zay Flowers leading the way. He was targeted 13 times and reeled in nine catches for 72 yards and his fourth touchdown snag of the season.