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AFC North standings: Ravens may steal division from Steelers

If there was any hope of the Bengals making the division more interesting, it died on Sunday against Denver. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is letting the division slip from its grasp.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, they could not seem to capture any magic from backup players in the lineup against the Denver Broncos. Jeff Driskel had some nice moments, but he had two turnovers as the team faltered.

Cincinnati had 12 penalties and three turnovers in an ugly home loss to their former assistant coach, Vance Joseph. Moreover, A.J. Green’s heralded return was cut short as he left the game at the beginning of the second quarter, seeming to re-aggravate his previously-injured toe.

The Bengals’ defense played a bit better than it has been over the past two months, but still allowed Phillip Lindsay to grind out 157 and two scores on the ground. It’s the fourth 100-yard rusher in as many weeks given up by this historically-bad Cincinnati defensive unit.

If there was a positive for Cincinnati on Sunday, it was Joe Mixon. The second-year back who had been calling for high effort from his teammates this week gave it his all with 95 all-purpose yards (13 receiving, 82 rushing) on a paltry 14 total touches (12 rushes, two catches).

At 5-7, Cincinnati’s meager hopes for the playoffs pretty much evaporated in front of a sparse home crowd. For any shot at the postseason, Cincinnati will need to win out against the Chargers, Raiders, Browns and Steelers, while also getting some outside help. It’s difficult to see anything close to that happening, given the Bengals’ recent 1-6 stretch.

Baltimore Ravens

All of a sudden, the Ravens have found new life in Lamar Jackson. It isn’t the prettiest brand of football (as is often the case with Baltimore), but it’s effective in collecting wins.

Facing the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday, Baltimore won their third straight with the rookie quarterback under center. Jackson was just 12 of 21 passing with 125 yards, but churned out 75 yards and a score on the ground en route to a 26-16 win.

The run-pass option offense the Ravens are employing allows multiple runners the opportunity to contribute, as Baltimore ran for 207 yards. Baltimore’s defense is also helping them greatly in this streak, as they had a fumble recovery while only allowing 34 rushing yards on the afternoon.

At 7-5, Baltimore is now nipping at the heels of Pittsburgh. They also have the inside track at the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture.

Cleveland Browns

It would seem that the Browns’ 2018 Super Bowl, of sorts, was in their Week 12 win over the Bengals because one week later, they didn’t show up against the Texans. Houston pounded Cleveland 29-13 at home, with rookie Baker Mayfield struggling after a career day against Cincinnati.

Mayfield threw for 397 yards and a touchdown, but had three critical interceptions to put his team in a big hole. In fact, the three turnovers occurred in consecutive drives during the second quarter.

Deshaun Watson continued to be a methodical dual-threat under center for Houston, passing for 224 yards and a score, while rushing for 30 more yards. After losing their first three games of the season, Bill O’Brien’s team has rattled off nine straight wins.

With their 29-13 loss to the Texans, the Browns still sit in the cellar of the AFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday Night Football featured a marquee matchup, as the Steelers hosted the well-rounded Chargers. Los Angeles was without Melvin Gordon, but that didn’t stop them from racking up a ton of points against Pittsburgh.

Philip Rivers was impeccable, throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns at Heinz Field. Keenan Allen was particularly effective, grabbing 14 of Rivers’ passes for 148 yards and a score.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 281 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on the evening, as the Steelers were out-dueled at home by the Chargers, 33-30. There was some national chatter this week circling Big Ben, as he called out his teammates through the media after their loss against the Broncos last week. We’ll see if he has much to say on that front this week.

Either way, Pittsburgh now holds a slim lead in the division over Baltimore. The two have already settled their two annual games, with both teams grabbing a win against each other in 2018.

Updated AFC North standings:

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-4-1 (3-1-1 in division, in conference)
  2. Baltimore Ravens: 7-5 (2-3 in division, 6-3 in conference)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals: 5-7 (1-3 in division, 3-5 in conference)
  4. Cleveland Browns 4-7-1 (2-1-1 in division, 3-5-1 in conference)