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AFC North Recap, Week 17: Ravens and Browns clinch, Steelers stay alive

The AFC North has a winner but some loose ends remain heading into the season finale

Miami Dolphins v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

In the second-to-last week of the regular season, the AFC North received closure. With a dominant win at home, their 13th of the season, the Ravens officially clinched the division title and No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Browns punched their ticket to the postseason as well and are in the driver’s seat for the top wildcard spot in the conference.

Elsewhere, the Bengals were eliminated from playoff contention after losing their second consecutive game. They can avoid having a sub-.500 record on the season with a win next week. The Steelers won their second game in a row to keep their slim wildcard hopes alive.

Updated standings:

  1. Baltimore Ravens 13-3
  2. Cleveland Browns 11-5
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7
  4. Cincinnati Bengals 8-8

Cleveland Browns

The Browns scored nearly 40 points on Thursday night and earned a dominant win over an AFC opponent for the second straight week. It’s the Browns’ fourth straight victory and in doing so, they secured a postseason berth for the first time since 2020.

Cleveland routed the New York Jets in the first half by scoring 34 of their 37 total points through the first two quarters. Back-to-back touchdown drives to open the game gave them a quick lead, then a pick-six two possessions later widened their advantage further. The Browns only scored a field goal in the second half but also only allowed three more points.

The Browns’ offense poured in over 400 total yards, most of which came through the air courtesy of Joe Flacco. Flacco had another 300+ yard passing performance with three touchdowns despite the absence of wide receiver Amari Cooper. Tight end David Njoku continued to star with six catches for 134 yards on eight targets.

While they only had 10 third down attempts, the Browns were efficient by converting half of them. They scored on three of their five trips to the red zone and had only four penalties total, which was eight less than the Jets’ 12 penalties.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens’ routed one of the league’s best teams for a second straight week, this time dominating the Miami Dolphins by a score of 56-19. The Dolphins had 11 wins entering this week and were looking to unseat the Ravens atop the AFC, but Lamar Jackson and company shut the door on that prospect.

After trailing 10-7 through the first quarter, the Ravens quickly seized momentum and never relinquished it. Three consecutive touchdown drives in the second quarter saw their lead balloon to 15 points, which only foreshadowed a 28-6 onslaught in the second half. Over the final two quarters, the Ravens’ defense had two takeaways and forced two turnover on downs.

The Ravens ultimately came up just shy of 500 yards on the day. They converted over half of their third down attempts, went a perfect 5-for-5 in the red zone, and averaged 8.9 yards per play. It was a balanced effort as Jackson threw for 321 yards through the air and the Ravens rushed for 160 as a team.

Jackson further cemented his standing atop the MVP race with a near-perfect performance, matching his career-high in passing touchdowns with five. He completed all but three of his 21 pass attempts to eight different pass-catchers.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers worked their way to a second straight victory with Mason Rudolph starting at quarterback, defeating the Seahawks 30-23 on the road. It also marked the second time all season the Steelers scored 30+ points, both of which came in the last two weeks.

Pittsburgh only trailed for a short period of time late in the second quarter when the Seahawks took a 14-10 lead. Then, after a quick touchdown drive to open the third quarter, the Steelers staved off some mini comeback attempts and remained in control.

Rudolph and company totaled well over 400 yards of offense and controlled the ball for roughly 15 more minutes than Seattle. The Steelers had their best rushing performance of the season with over 200 yards on the ground as a team. Najee Harris turned a high workload (27 carries) into 122 yards with two touchdowns, while Jaylen Warren rushed 13 times for 75 yards and a score of his own.

The Steelers averaged a whopping 10.6 yards per pass with Rudolph again finding success on big plays through the air. Wide receiver George Pickens followed up a career-best outing with seven catches for 131 yards receiving, leading the team in both categories.

Cincinnati Bengals

Result: Loss to Kansas City Chiefs, 17-25

The Bengals failed to keep their playoff hopes upright in Week 17, dropping a second straight game en route to being eliminated from postseason contention. They jumped out to a 10-point lead over the Chiefs in the first half but were shut out in the second half as their lead dwindled away.

Over the final two quarters, the Bengals punted the ball three times and failed to convert on fourth down twice. They ultimately finished with more first downs and won the time of possession battle over the Chiefs, but were outgained handedly.

Jake Browning completed 19-of-33 pass attempts for 197 yards with a touchdown, but no Bengals’ pass-catcher totaled more than 41 receiving yards. The Bengals were committed to the run with 32 carries but not efficient, as they rushed for only 104 yards as a team.

Defensively, the Bengals limited the Chiefs to 15 first downs and just 3-of-12 on third down attempts. Despite that, and the fact that they won the turnover battle, the Bengals were not able to generate scoring offense when they needed to in the second half.