The tight AFC North race has finally begun to gain clarity as two teams have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. All is right, in terms of NFL narratives, as both the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were once again jockeying for the divisional crown in Week 16.
It’s time for a rundown of the division’s happenings this past weekend and where everyone stands after their Week 16 contests.
The rematch of 2018’s chapter of “The Battle of Ohio” is in the books and the Cleveland Browns have swept the Bengals in the annual series for the first time since 2002. In case you were wondering, that year was the last in the pre-Marvin Lewis era.
Baker Mayfield continued his run for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with three more touchdown passes against the Bengals. In the two contests against Cincinnati this year, Mayfield has thrown seven touchdowns against zero interceptions, as well as 542 yards leading the Browns to break out the brooms this Sunday.
Oh, and in case you were wondering about Mayfield’s level of joy in taking to his old coach Hue Jackson once again:
Baker Mayfield glaring at Hue Jackson after icing the game pic.twitter.com/GP9WozSIJ8— The Rush (@therushyahoo) December 23, 2018
On the other side of the field, there were really only a couple of players with notable performances. Running back Joe Mixon eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season with his 68 tough yards on the ground. Quarterback Jeff Driskel struggled throughout most of the game, but did throw two late touchdown passes to John Ross and C.J. Uzomah, respectively, to make the game interesting with a few minutes to play.
In defense of both, Cincinnati’s offensive line was atrocious most of the day, allowing three sacks and committing multiple penalties. The Bengals’ defense wasn’t much better, failing to get a sack of their own, while allowing points on seven straight possessions in the game.
The two teams are heading in completely different directions as they head into the offseason. Cleveland looks to be a solid opponent going forward thanks to their 2018 draft haul, while Cincinnati might be on track for a coach and/or roster upheaval along with a possible fan revolt if/when the status quo is kept.
The Ravens got an early start to their weekend with a marquee Saturday night matchup in Los Angeles against the Chargers. Baltimore’s defense came up with three huge turnovers to defeat the Chargers on their home turf, 22-10.
Lamar Jackson went to 5-1 as the Ravens’ starter, as they looked to steal the AFC North away from the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was 12-of-22 for 220 yards and a touchdown, while Tavon Young’s 62-yard fumble recovery and touchdown sealed the gigantic win for Baltimore.
Philip Rivers had an uncharacteristically poor evening, throwing two interceptions along with only 181 passing yards and zero touchdowns. Melvin Gordon returned to the lineup for the first time in almost a month, but only netted 41 rushing yards on 12 attempts.
There has been a lot of good news surrounding the Ravens lately, including Jackson’s performances and the team stating its desire to retain John Harbaugh. And, with the win (along with that of the Titans on Saturday), Baltimore officially eliminated the Browns from playoff contention.
With the Ravens’ win on Saturday, Pittsburgh found themselves in the unfamiliar position of having their backs against the wall. And, with a couple of tough games at the end of their schedule in the form of the Patriots and Saints, they had far from an easy path to the postseason.
Having beaten New England last week, it was off to New Orleans to face the current Super Bowl favorite in their own domain. It was a tight contest throughout the entire afternoon, but the Saints prevailed at home, 31-28. Ben Roethlisberger was outstanding with 380 passing yards and three touchdowns, but couldn’t get the Steelers in the end zone with a minute and a half to play.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is now on the outside looking in when it comes to the AFC bracket. Because of that costly Week 1 tie against Cleveland, they currently sit a half-game back from Baltimore for the division crown.
The Ravens host Cleveland next week, while Pittsburgh is at home against Cincinnati. To get into the playoffs, the Steelers not only need to beat the Bengals, but they also need the Ravens to lose against the Browns.
Updated AFC North standings:
- Baltimore Ravens: 9-6 (2-3 in division, 7-4 in conference)
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-6-1 (3-2-1 in division, 5-5-1 in conference)
- Cleveland Browns 7-7-1 (3-1-1 in division, 5-5-1 in conference)
- Cincinnati Bengals: 6-9 (1-4 in division, 4-7 in conference)
Updated AFC Playoff Picture:
- Kansas City Chiefs: 11-4 (First in AFC West, clinched playoff spot)
- New England Patriots: 10-5 (Clinched AFC East)
- Houston Texans: 10-5 (First in AFC South, clinched playoff spot)
- Baltimore Ravens: 9-6 (First in AFC North)
- Los Angeles Chargers: 11-4 (Second in AFC West, clinched playoff spot)
- Indianapolis Colts: 9-6 (Second in AFC South)
- Tennessee Titans: 9-6 (Third in AFC South)
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-6-1 (Second in AFC North