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State of AFC North: Steelers end Ravens’ season, Browns have a Merry Christmas

The Ravens and Steelers finished a close divisional race with an even closer game that came down to the wire. The Browns avoided 0-16, and even hold onto the first overall pick, for now.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Week 16 is in the books and so is the AFC North 2016 champion. Baltimore was faced with a win or you’re out game, but they couldn’t hold the Steelers off for a full 60 minutes, which has been their issue for much of the year. The Steelers locked up the AFC North and the three seed in the AFC. The Browns won their Super Bowl and received a Christmas miracle to hold onto the first overall pick.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) defeated the Baltimore Ravens (8-7): 31-27

Pittsburgh clinches AFC North title

By the time Sunday rolled around, the Ravens were aware that their road to the playoffs had shrunk considerably. The Dolphins, after two improbable wins with Matt Moore, made it impossible for the Ravens to take the final Wild Card spot. But, the Ravens didn’t come out against the Steelers like a team playing for their playoff lives.

It was the Steelers who came out looking desperate, scoring the first touchdown. The Steelers had won five straight games after losing four straight to get to this point. At one point in the season, the Steelers playoffs hopes seemed like just a dream, but just like the Ravens have done in most of their games this season, they left the door open for the Steeelers to win the division.

The Ravens spent the first half consistently getting onto the Steelers’ side of the field, but they only had six points to show for it, one mishandled snap cost them a field goal as well.

The Ravens woke up in the second half. Steve Smith Sr. and Joe Flacco hooked up for a touchdown and two point conversion that gave the Ravens the lead. The final quarter started with Baltimore deep in Pittsburgh territory after a Ben Roethlisberger interception. The Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal making it a 20-10 lead. But, that was when the Steelers came alive.

The Steelers key to this comeback was Le’Veon Bell. The running back has been the foundation of this offense all season, and he did not disappoint in the fourth. The Steelers gave him the ball twice inside the Ravens’ 10 yard line, and he found the end zone both times. Neither touchdown was easy, but rather a personification of sheer will.

The Ravens did manage to take a 27-24 lead, but with time still on the clock, Roethlisberger executed a two-minute drill. It ended with a play that could have been catastrophic. Antonio Brown caught a pass on the goal line with 10 seconds remaining and no timeouts. If the Ravens had managed to stop Brown from getting in the end zone the clock probably would have run out and the Ravens would have been division champs. However, Brown managed to find a way to stretch the ball over the goal line and put the final coffin in the Ravens season.

The Ravens will look back at 2016 and know they simply played with fate a few too many times. They played down to teams, and let a few good teams hang around too long. While their 2015 season was riddled with injuries and close games, 2016 was more of the latter, with a healthy team.

As for the Steelers they fought their way back into the division race and pulled ahead at the final stretch. They aren’t the most likeable team, but in 2016 there was little doubt they were a weakened AFC North’s best team. Here’s to hoping 2017 yields a different result.

How far can the Steelers get in the playoffs

The Steelers are locked into the No. 3 seed. They are currently matched up with the Dolphins, but if the Dolphins win and Chiefs lose next week, the Steelers could end up facing Kansas City instead.

The most likely scenario is that the Dolphins lose to the Patriots, who still haven’t locked up the first seed, which would mean the Steelers would be facing Matt Moore and the Dolphins. If you recall earlier this season, the Dolphins beat the Steelers in Week 6 to improve to (2-4) on the season. That game was in Miami though.

Matt Moore has performed well in place of Ryan Tannehill, but would he be able to do enough to lead the Dolphins, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, to a win in Pittsburgh. Probably not, but a big game from Jay Ajayi could change that.

The Steelers’ fate during the playoffs will fall on Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell outscoring the opposition. It isn’t insane to think that could get them deep in the playoffs, but there is one team in their way, the Patriots.

New England can not only keep up with Pittsburgh offensively, but Bill Belichik has had the Steelers’ number in the playoffs for as long as Roethlisberger has been the quarterback in Pittsburgh. That is probably the most likely matchup for the AFC Championship game as it stands now. That doesn’t bode well for the Steelers.

Don’t talk to Suggs about retirement

The Ravens have quite a few Hall of Fame potential players nearing the end of their careers. Smith originally planned on riding off into the sunset last season, but an achilles injury that ended his season changed his plans. Smith hasn’t revealed his retirement plans yet, but another aging star has.

Terrell Suggs was disgusted by the notion of him calling it quits following the loss to the Steelers on Sunday. It isn’t a completely outlandish notion though.

Suggs is 34 and will turn 35 next season. He has suffered quite a few injuries in recent years, and while he still has some gas left in the tank he clearly isn’t the same player. The Ravens have already prepared for life without Suggs. They brought in four young linebackers going back to the 2015 offseason to prepare to fill the pass rushing void that will be left by Suggs.

You can’t blame Suggs for wanting to return. The Ravens were on the cusp of the playoffs, and he is probably hoping that next season they have a chance at punching their playoff ticket again. It would also be very weird seeing a Ravens’ defense without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed or Suggs. That day isn’t too far off though.

The Cleveland Browns (1-14) defeated the San Diego Chargers (5-10): 20-17

They finally did it

I’m not sure a city has ever been so happy to not talk about a parade anymore. That is right the Browns ended their winless season with a victory over the Chargers. It took a blocked and missed field goal to pull it off, but they did it. They also got Robert Griffin III concussed in the process, but they did it.

The Chargers, without Melvin Gordon, looked miserable. The Browns couldn’t stop the run all year, but they held the Chargers to 34 yards on 18 carries. Philip Rivers also struggled. He completed only half of his passes against a defense that has let anyone and everyone throw on them at will.

The Browns really looked like a bad team that left it all on the line on Saturday. They knew this might be their last chance at a win and they went for it. They almost lost the rights to the first pick in the draft in the process, but the 49ers did them a solid and gave it right back with a win of their own. It was the first time in a long time that something nice hapend to the Browns twice in one day.

Cleveland locks up a top two pick

It is officially a two horse race for the top selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. It’s insane that a team with only one win has a chance of not picking first, but here we are. If the Browns beat the Steelers, who have nothing to play for, they could work their way out of the top spot in the draft.

The 49ers (2-13) who also won last week are breathing right down the Browns’ necks. They play the the Seahawks, who still have a shot from moving from the fourth seed to the third in the NFC playoffs.

It would be fitting that the Browns win their last two games and end up selecting second in the draft. At least this year they wouldn’t be missing out on a can’t miss quarterback prospect. They may miss out on Myles Garrett though.