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AFC North Preview, Week 18: Ravens host Steelers in primetime, Browns and Bengals faceoff again

Taking a look ahead for the AFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Conor Courtney/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens (13-3)

The 2023 AFC North Champions produced an impressive win for the second week in a row this past Sunday when they blew out the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 and will close out the regular season on Saturday with a primetime matchup at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With their seeding at the top of the AFC and the division crown already locked up, they don’t have anything to play for aside from trying to extend the NFL’s longest active winning streak to seven in a row and keep their longtime rivals out of the playoffs.

This will be the second meeting between the two teams this season and the latest chapter in what has been one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports over the past two decades. Their first game was in Week 5, took place in Pittsburgh, and saw the Steelers come from behind in the fourth quarter in a game where the Ravens let them hang around and score 14 fourth-quarter points between offense and special teams. The Steelers have won six of the last seven matchups between the two including series sweeps in 2020 and 2021.

The Ravens already ruled out soon-to-be two-time league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson (rest) and veteran safety Daryl Worley (shoulder/ankle) for this game on Wednesday and had as many as 14 players listed on their injury report this week with an injury or illness. On their final injury report, they also ruled out wide receiver Odell Beckham (rest), right guard Kevin Zeitler (knee/quad), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf), linebacker Malik Harrison (groin), and listed wide receiver Zay Flowers (calf) as doubtful. The following six players were listed as questionable:

  • DB Kyle Hamilton (knee)
  • CB Ronald Darby (illness)
  • CB Arthur Maulet (hip)
  • CB Brandon Stephens (ankle)
  • WR Tylan Wallace (knee)
  • CB Ar’Darius Washington (pectoral)

Cleveland Browns (11-5)

The Joe Flacco-led Browns are in a similar situation as the division champions after clinching their playoff berth and locking in their place as the fifth seed with their Week 17 win over the New York Jets last Thursday. It marked their fourth straight win in the five games since the former Ravens franchise quarterback took over under center as the full-time starter. They will be on the road in Week 18 but won’t have to travel far to play their regular-season finale as they will be taking on Cincinnati Bengals for the second and final time this year.

These two teams played each other in Week 1 to open the season and the Browns came out on top with a resounding 24-3 victory back when Deshaun Watson was the starter prior to his season-ending shoulder injury suffered in Week 10 against the Ravens. Cleveland has gotten the better of Cincinnati in the battle of the two Ohio teams in recent years having won six of their last seven divisional matchups dating back to the 2020 season.

Cleveland has over 20 players listed on their injury report for the second week in a row heading into this game. Although he hasn’t officially been ruled out as of Thursday, the team already announced that Flacco (calf) will not start this game. Those who have yet to practice and are in jeopardy of missing this game include kicker Dustin Hopkins (hamstring), wide receiver Amari Cooper (heel), offensive guard Joel Bitonio, center Ethan Pocic (shoulder/stinger), cornerback Greg Newsome (knee), and inside linebacker Anthony Walker (knee). Their list of limited or full participants includes the following:

  • DE Ogbo Okoronkwo (pectoral)
  • P Corey Bojorquez (quad)
  • DB Juan Thornhill (calf)
  • CB Mike Ford (calf)
  • DE Myles Garrett (shoulder)
  • DB Duron Harman (ankle)
  • RB Kareem Hunt (groin)
  • WR Elijah Moore (concussion)
  • TE David Njoku (knee)
  • OG Wyatt Teller (ankle)
  • CB Denzel Ward (shoulder)
  • WR Marquise Goodwin (knee)
  • DE Shelby Harris (back)
  • LB Jordan Kunaszyk (calf)

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)

While their rivals have nothing to really play for heading into this season finale matchup, Mike Tomlin and gritty Steelers will be fighting tooth and nail to keep their once dwindling and now promising playoff hopes alive. Although they still don’t fully control their fate, the best chance they have requires getting a win on Saturday against the Tyler Huntley-led Ravens on the road. Pittsburgh is coming off a second straight game of scoring 30-plus points in which racked up a season-high 468 yards of total offense in a 30-23 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17.

Even though 2022 first-rounder Kenny Pickett has been cleared to play, the Steelers are sticking with the hot hand of sixth-year pro Mason Rudolph for this huge game with their season on the line. With a win, it would mark Pittsburgh’s second sweep of a divisional opponent this season and the third of the Ravens since 2020, ending the regular season with a record of 5-1 in the AFC North.

The Steelers had seven players listed on their injury report for actual ailments and not rest or personal days but only had three that were given questionable designations for the game. The shortlist includes linebacker Elandon Roberts (pectoral) and safeties Trenton Thompson (neck) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee).

Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)

After falling on the road to the defending Super Bowl champion Kanas City Chiefs in an ugly road loss, AFC North basement-dwelling Bengals will be trying to end the regular season on a high note against the Browns team that will likely be resting several starters. Fifth-year veteran quarterback Jake Browning will be trying to help Cincinnati avoid finishing winless in the division since 2002 when they went 2-14 overall.

The Bengals had just six players listed on their injury report as of Thursday and only two have missed any practice time. Fourth-year wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) has yet to take the practice field ahead of the finale, which doesn’t bode well for the pending free agent’s availability for Sunday. Pro Bowl running back Joe Mixon (illness) popped up on the report Thursday and also sat out of practice. The shortlist of limited and full participants includes Browning (foot), cornerback Jalen Davis (groin), wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (shoulder), and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (shoulder).