The Ravens and Browns play tonight, but six and seven games behind the Bengals respectively, the only other team in the AFC North that matters at this point in the season is the Steelers. The Steelers lost this week to the Seahawks, placing the Bengals three games ahead of them for the AFC North title with only five regular-season games left to be played.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) lose to Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
Mike Tomlin has gained the reputation as a gambler, but maybe he should calm it down a little. The Steelers had a three point lead at the start of the second quarter inside field goal range, and they decided to run, what I'll loosely call a fake field goal, that turned into an interception being run back inside Pittsburgh's 30 yard line. the Seahawks quickly turned that into a touchdown. That 10 point swing set off the fireworks as the next three possessions all ended in touchdowns. The second half started with a few costly mistakes by Ben Roethlisberger as he threw two interceptions that led to touchdowns for Seattle. He seemed uneasy on his feet all afternoon, often looking back behind him. When faced with a fourth and goal with 3:30 left in the game, the Steelers kicked a field goal to make it a 32-30 game. They had three timeouts left, so the thought was they'd be able to stop the Seahawks in time to get the ball back for Roethlisberger to pull out a game winning drive. It did not play out that way as Doug Baldwin stiff armed Antwon Blake and ran 80 yards for the touchdown to make it 39-30. Then Roethlisberger pulled himself out with concussion-like symptoms. The turnovers and poor defensive play sealed the Steelers' fate as they fell to the Seahawks in Seattle.
The Steelers losing, and Bengals winning changes quite a bit for the AFC North race. The Bengals now have a three game lead on the Steelers. Whether the Bengals win or lose to the Browns next week, Week 14 will be a division-clinching game when the Steelers come to Paul Brown Stadium. Sunday's loss also takes the Steelers out of the Wild Card spot, for the time being as the Colts and Chiefs gain the right to control their own destiny. Five teams currently sit at 6-5: the Steelers, Colts, Chiefs, Texans, and Jets Two more teams are 5-6: the Bills and Raiders. The Steelers have no breathing room or ability to slip up in the next five weeks.
Baltimore Ravens (3-7) at Cleveland Browns (2-8), Monday at 8:30 p.m. EST
It has been no secret how banged up the Ravens have been all season long. This week has been highlighted by the loss of their last two remaining quality offensive players, Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett. However, they will also be without Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele along the offensive line. The starting lineup of Matt Schaub, Javorius Allen, Crockett Gillmore, and Kamar Aiken will also be playing without some of their best offensive linemen. Could the Browns actually sweep the Ravens this year?
From the Ravens' perspective, even though they are so beat up, the Browns present a beatable opponent given that they aren't at full health either. It's hard to predict how this will play out, but if the Ravens have any chance of winning they'll have to hope Matt Schaub has recovered from his interception bug that drove him out of both Houston and Oakland. The Ravens' best chance is to get Javorius "Buck" Allen running the ball against the Browns' poor run defense. Ultimately, this game is far more interesting as far as draft positioning goes. This game will likely decide who drafts higher than the other in the offseason.
While the Browns are nowhere near as banged up as Baltimore, they will also be without several key starters for Monday Night. Let's start with the good news for the Browns, Donte Whitner will be returning to the defense after missing a few games dealing with a concussion. However, Joe Haden will miss yet another game this season with his concussion. It doesn't stop there for the defense. Randy Starks has been ruled out, and outside linebacker Nate Orchard is questionable with a groin injury. The offense isn't immune to the injury bug either. Taylor Gabriel andAndrew Hawkins won't be available for Josh McCown, and the offensive line will be without Joel Bitonio.
Johnny Manziel had the starting role for the Browns in his grasp. He finally was starting and even gained the trust of his coach heading into the team's bye week... And then, he lost it. I'm not here to blast Manziel for drinking. He went to rehab, alcoholism isn't a quick fix, not everyone can just quit drinking cold turkey.
The problem I have is him trying to lie to the coaches and front office about it, which is reportedly why he's now the Browns' third string quarterback. As the potential leader of this football team, he has to be able to own up to his mistakes. Manziel trying to weasel his way out of his poor decision making sets a bad example, and it probably lost him quite a bit of trust and respect from his teammates. He may get to start again in the final weeks of the season, but he cost himself valuable playing time. He also cost us all the last bit of entertainment for this Monday Night football game. I feel bad for the people responsible for putting together the promotional highlights this week.
Heading into Monday Night Football here are the AFC North standings: