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State of AFC North: RGIII returns, Wild Card getting interesting for Steelers, Ravens

The Steelers and Ravens dismantled their Week 13 opponents to keep the race for the AFC North title as close as can be. The Wild Card is becoming more of an option for the Steelers and Ravens. Can Robert Griffin III prove he can be a long term option for the Browns?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens and Steelers just keep winning. This week they both had two of the hottest teams in football come into their stadiums, only to stomp over both. Meanwhile, the Browns had a week off from getting stomped themselves. It is looking like Robert Griffin III could be starting next week for the Browns, but can he prove to be the future in Cleveland?

The Baltimore Ravens (7-5) beat the Miami Dolphins (7-5): 38-6

The Ravens snapped the Dolphins six-game winning streak

Sunday saw domination by Baltimore. The score is somewhat deceiving though as two interceptions occurred by the end zone really hurt the Dolphins. The difference in this game can be summed up just by looking at the stats of the quarterbacks. Joe Flacco was 36 of 47 with four touchdowns and an interception. Ryan Tannehill was 29 of 40 and had three interceptions with only one touchdown, which came in the fourth quarter.

It is still troubling that, even leading most of the game, Ravens running backs only ran the ball 16 times. It isn’t like they weren’t effective. They managed to rush for over 100 yards with those carries. It worked out this week because Flacco played really well, but it could come back to bite them eventually.

As for the Ravens’ defense, the offense did them a solid and created a pretty substantial lead early. It forced the Dolphins to throw more and made it so Jay Ajayi couldn’t be the catalyst of the Dolphins’ offense. Ajayi ran 12 times for 61 yards, so it’s too bad the Dolphins didn’t use him more.

Some Dolphins pointed to field conditions on Sunday, but no one really used it as a direct excuse. Some also speculated it could’ve been the special cleats the NFL allowed the players to wear. Either way, both teams played in the same conditions, and one team handled it far better.

Flacco coming alive at the right time

Flacco looked every bit the part of being one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. The Ravens’ offense has relied on him all season long, and it has been a mixed bag of success. On Sunday though Flacco picked apart the Dolphins secondary by dropping dime after dime.

The Ravens have four games left to play and odds are they will have to win just about all of them to make it into the playoffs. Flacco has gained a reputation for turning it on in the playoffs, but the Ravens haven’t been there in a few years. To return to the playoffs, Flacco might have to start getting hot a few games early.

The Ravens have three road games against tough opponents, including the Patriots, Bengals and the Steelers, the latter of whom remain right on their tail. Their only remaining home game is against the Eagles, who look like a shell of the team from early in the season.

The most important game is obviously against the Steelers who are also 7-5, but any loss at this point in the season could be catastrophic to playoff hopes. The Ravens and Flacco might as well treat the rest of the year as the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) beat the New York Giants (8-4):24-14

The Steelers keep pace with the Ravens

The Giants came into Sunday as one of the best teams in the NFC. At 8-3 they had the second best record in the NFC going into the week. That didn’t mean anything to the Steelers as they had a typical Pittsburgh game, ending six straight Giants wins.

Le’Veon Bell remains the constant unsung hero. Bell ran for 118 yards and added six catches for 64 yards, which was more than Antonio Brown had. Bell continues to be one of the most used players on any team. Pittsburgh is in such a tight race for the playoffs any hope of resting him is becoming nil to none. His health has been a concern in the past, but the Steelers are willing to bet everything on him.

Ladarius Green had his breakout game with six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. It was the tight end’s first 100 yard game this year. If he can continue at that pace, it just makes the Steelers that much more dangerous on offense.

Defensively, the Steelers flustered Eli Manning all afternoon. Manning threw under 200 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. While Odell Beckham Jr. reached 100 yards receiving, he never got a chance to dance in Pittsburgh.

Wild Card becoming an option for Steelers

A few weeks ago, the only conceivable option for the Steelers to make the playoffs was as the division champion. After the Bills fell to the Raiders, the only team ahead of the Steelers that is currently outside the playoff picture is the Dolphins who are also 7-5.

Miami holds the head to head tiebreaker after beating Pittsburgh earlier in the season. However, the Dolphins have a few tough games left on their schedule. The Cardinals, Bills and Patriots are still teams they face this year. Fortunately for Miami, Buffalo is the only one of those teams they’ll have to play on the road.

Then there is the Broncos who are currently 8-4 and slated as the six seed. They have one of the toughest remaining schedules. They play the Titans and Chiefs on the road, and then they will face the Raiders and Patriots in Mile High Stadium. Three of those teams are competing for a bye in the playoffs while the other is still very much in their division race.

The Steelers best hope still remains in taking care of business against Baltimore to grab the division lead, but the road to the playoffs is starting to open up for the Steelers as the weeks go by.

The Cleveland Browns (0-12): bye week

Robert Griffin likely to start against the Bengals

Griffin’s debut was short lived as the quarterback hurt his shoulder in the first game for the Browns. It is hard to tell how he will play coming off the injury, but if he hopes to stay in Cleveland, he better make the most of this opportunity.

The Browns earlier in the season played Cody Kessler over Josh McCown, and that was the right choice. This season is more of a learning year for the Browns. Not just for their players to get experience, but for the coaches and front office to learn what they have in each player.

That is why playing Griffin makes the most sense. Even though Griffin played a lot in the preseason, that doesn’t account for much. The coaches and front office need tape of Griffin in Hue Jackson’s offense in order to make an educated decision on whether they need to address the quarterback position i the offseason.

The Browns are on a spiraling course for that first overall pick, and with the Eagles imploding (as they own the Eagles’ first round pick), they should have another high choice as well. How Griffin plays over the rest of the season could determine if the Browns spend one of those picks on a quarterback.

The fact this is the same offensive line that has seen two other quarterbacks get seriously injured doesn’t bode well for Griffin. Although, Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor Sr. sure look like more appealing and polished targets than they were earlier in the season. Still, how well that offensive line can protect Griffin will probably determine how well this audition for the future plays out.