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AFC North Preview, Week 17: Browns in primetime, Ravens and Bengals have big AFC matchups

Taking a look ahead for the AFC North.

Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens (12-3)

The AFC-leading Ravens are coming off their biggest and most impressive win in years in which they routed the NFC-leading San Francisco 49ers 33-19 on Christmas night. They will be looking the extend the NFL’s longest active winning streak to six in a row in Week 17 against the AFC-East leading Miami Dolphins in a conference heavyweight bout with massive playoff seeding implications. It will be their first game back home after a two-game road stint to close out the regular season with a two-game homestand and hopefully secure both their division crown and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs which comes with home-field advantage throughout.

These two teams faced off in Baltimore in Week 2 of last season in a high-scoring game in which the Ravens blew a 21-point lead in the second half and lost 42-38. It was their biggest blown lead of the Lamar Jackson era and there are several players who will be determined to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself this time around if they get up big. The Ravens have won six out of their last nine meetings dating back to 2010 but the Dolphins have won the last two in a row in 2021 and 2022.

The Ravens held a walkthrough practice on Wednesday and had 10 players listed on their initial injury report. The three that didn’t practice were key starters including second-year breakout star safety Kyle Hamilton (knee), standout first-round rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers (calf), and veteran right guard Kevin Zeitler (knee/quad). Their long list of limited participants included a number of starters as well and included the following:

  • CB Jayln Armour-Davis (concussion)
  • CB Arthur Maulet (knee)
  • G/T Patrick Mekari (concussion)
  • LB Patrick Queen (shoulder)
  • LB Roquan Smith (pectoral)
  • P Jordan Stout (back)
  • DE Broderick Washington (elbow)

Cleveland Browns (10-5)

The Joe Flacco-led Browns continue to roll and stack wins down the stretch and currently hold in the AFC’s fifth seed. They’re coming off their third straight win except this time. they never trailed and thoroughly thrashed the Houston Texans 36-22. They’ll be hosting the middling New York Jets on Thursday to officially get Week 17 underway and likely punch their ticket to the postseason given they need just one more to snap their two-year hiatus after making it to the way to the Divisional Round in 2020.

These two teams played each other in Week 2 last year and it was Flacco that led the Jets to an impressive and improbable comeback come-from-behind victory 31-30. While New York has won seven of their last nine meetings between them dating back to 2010 including each of the last two in 2020 and 2022, the Browns are clearly the better team and have a lot more to playoff than the Jets who are coming off a win but have already been eliminated from playoff contention for the past couple weeks.

Cleveland had a whopping 22 players listed on their injury report heading into this game but only have final designations for seven. The five players they’ve ruled out include kicker Dustin Hopkins (hamstring), defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo (pectoral), and inside linebacker Anthony Walker (knee). Punter Corey Bojorquez (quad) is doubtful to play while wide receiver Amari Cooper (heel) and safety Juan Thornhill (calf) as both listed as questionable.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7)

Just when it seemed like season and dwindling playoff hopes for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers were circling the drain, they found a way to circle the wagons instead and had their best and most complete team performance last week in their season series sweep of the Bengals with a 34-11 victory. While they still are on the outside looking in on the current playoff picture, their first order of business will be traveling to the Northwest where they’ll try to grind out a win in a Week 17 interconference matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.

These two teams are facing each other for the first time since the 2021 season and have split their last four meetings dating back to 2011. The Steelers narrowly won their last matchup 23-20 but only one team will have a new quarterback under center this time around. When they faced off in Week 6 that year, it was veteran Geno Smith’s first start of the season in place of an injured Russell Wilson who he would later supplant permanently. Pittsburgh will be starting Mason Rudolph who was on that 2021 team and is coming off a strong performance in his first start of this season last Sunday when he threw for 290 passing yards and two touchdowns in the team’s win over their AFC North rivals.

The Steelers had six players listed on their initial injury report on Wednesday and over half did not take the practice field. The two limited participants were second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett (ankle) and safety Trenton Thompson (neck). The four nonparticipants included All-Pro free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee), running back Najee Harris (knee), linebacker Elandon Roberts (pectoral), and offensive guard Isaac Seumalo (shoulder).

Cincinnati Bengals (8-7)

The two-time defending AFC North champions are back in last place in the division standings after having their three-game win streak snapped embarrassingly to the previously reeling Steelers. Fifth-year veteran Jake Browning came back down to Earth after being on a nice heater and the defense continued to disappoint by giving up several explosive plays to an offense that hadn’t scored more than 26 points all year. They will be trying to keep their slim postseason hopes alive this week when travel to face the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs who are also coming off a rough loss.

The two teams have met in several high-leverage games in the previous two seasons both in the regular season and in the playoffs including the last two AFC championship games. While Cincinnati has won five of their last seven meetings dating back to 2012, this is setting up for a perfect get-right game for a Chiefs team that has struggled to create explosive plays on offense going against a Bengals team that has given up the most in the league this year. The odds of Browning outdueling two-time league and Super Bowl MVP, Patrick Mahomes, on his home turf are not high but then again, they just lost to the Las Vegas Raiders at home who had fourth-round rookie Aidan O’Connell under center and he completed nine passes in four quarters.

The Bengals had just four players listed on their initial injury report on Wednesday and only one sat out. Unfortunately, their one non-participant was two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (shoulder) who hasn’t practiced since suffering his AC joint shoulder injury. Defensive end Cam Sample (knee) and cornerback Jalen Davis (groin) were limited participants while cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (ankle) was a full participant after being designated to return from injured reserve.