Only one loose end needed to be tied up in Week 18 for the AFC North, which was whether or not the Steelers would sneak into the playoffs. They did just that by beating the Ravens and received help from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost and dropped out of the postseason picture.
In joining the Ravens and Browns as playoff representatives, the AFC North finishes as the only division to feature three postseason squads. The Bengals’ victory over the Browns on Sunday also gave them a winning record for the season, meaning all four teams in the division finished above. 500.
Result: Win over Baltimore Ravens, 17-10
The Steelers capitalized on an advantageous matchup against a Ravens team resting Lamar Jackson and several other key starters. Pittsburgh grinded out a 17-10 win over Baltimore for the second time this season, giving them a 5-1 record in the division for the year.
It was far from the prettiest performance, as the Steelers had only seven points heading into the fourth quarter. They scored a touchdown on their second drive of the game and were blanked over the next six possessions, which resulted in four punts and two fumbles.
After taking a 14-7 lead in the final frame, a key forced fumble with seven minutes remaining set up a short field goal try for Chris Boswell to give Pittsburgh a 10-point lead. The Steelers allowed no points for nearly the entire second half before a late field goal with only seconds left on the clock.
Pittsburgh’s offense fell back to earth after two explosive weeks but their commitment to running the ball once again proved fruitful. Najee Harris rushed for 112 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown while as a team the Steelers totaled 155 ground yards. The blemish of the victory was the MCL injury suffered by star edge rusher T.J. Watt, putting his status for next week’s wildcard matchup in serious jeopardy.
Result: Loss to Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-17
The Ravens entered Sunday’s matchup as 3.5-point underdogs as they rested Jackson and several other starters including Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham Jr., Roquan Smith, and Kyle Hamilton, among others. They were unsurprisingly competitive but also unsurprisingly limited, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Baltimore put together only two scoring drives for a total of 10 points; one touchdown at the end of the second quarter and one field goal just before the end of the game, when a win was no longer in reach. The Ravens managed 13 total first downs, a shade under 230 offensive yards, and possessed the ball for nearly nine less minutes.
Tyler Huntley drew the start at quarterback and completed 15-of-28 passes for 146 yards with a touchdown. While he kept the ball out of harm’s way, the Ravens weren’t able to push the ball vertically with much success. They rushed 25 times as a team for just over 100 yards.
They converted only 4-of-13 third down attempts while averaging 3.9 yards per play. Points off turnovers, or lack thereof, were key, as the Ravens were unable to score any points after forcing two fumbles in the first half.
Result: Loss to Cincinnati Bengals, 14-31
Like the Ravens, the Browns rested a number of starters with their spot as the No. 5 seed in the AFC already set in-stone. That resulted in them being handedly defeated by the Bengals in a game that was not competitive from start to finish.
With former Bengal Jeff Driskel starting at quarterback, the Browns were held scoreless through three quarters. During that span, the Bengals accumulated a 31-0 lead after jumping out to a quick two-touchdown advantage in the first quarter.
Cleveland’s offense totaled 13 first downs and converted just 2-of-11 attempts on third down. They lost the time of possession battle by more than 10 minutes and had seven penalties compared to just one on the Bengals.
Driskel completed 13-of-26 passes for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions evenly. They still managed to run the ball somewhat effectively but fell behind substantially so early on that it meant little.
Result: Win over Cleveland Browns, 31-14
The Bengals were on the flip side of the Browns’ blowout loss, avoiding a winless season against divisional opponents. Cincinnati shook off an early interception to score three straight touchdowns in the middle of the first half. From that point on the rout was on.
It wasn’t a huge yardage game from the Bengals offensively but a precise one. Jake Browning completed 18-of-24 passes with three touchdowns, one to Joe Mixon and two to wide receiver Andrei Iosivas. Mixon also added another score on the ground with 111 rushing yards on just 14 carries.
No Bengals’ pass-catcher exceeded 50 or more receiving yards but Browning distributed the ball to nine different players. The Bengals had 22 first downs, nine more than the Browns did, despite converting only 3-of-12 third down attempts.