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AFC North standings: Ravens come out on top and keep Steelers out of playoffs

The Bengals and Browns put up admirable fights against the Steelers and Ravens, respectively, but their division foes came up victorious. However, only one of the winning teams is moving on to the postseason.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

With Baltimore and Pittsburgh both looking for playoff spots in Week 17, the NFL decided to flex both games to the late afternoon slot on Sunday. And, neither game disappointed the masses.

Though Cleveland and Cincinnati were both previously eliminated from postseason contention, they had the opportunity to play spoiler to their hated division rivals. Well, both the Bengals and Browns took their games to the wire in contests that had major playoff implications.

Bengals at Steelers

Pittsburgh hosted Cincinnati in what looked to be a blowout on paper. The Bengals were down many players, particularly on offense, so traveling to Heinz Field with nothing to play for but pride seemed to point to an ugly ending of the 2018 season.

However, Cincinnati had a little more gas in the tank than most expected. The Bengals had a chance to win the game with under two minutes to play, only to fall to the Steelers for the second time in 2018 with a 16-13 loss.

Jeff Driskel was just 12-of-24 for 95 passing yards, while Joe Mixon had his fourth 100-yard rushing performance of 2018. But it was the Bengals defense that stepped up in a big way against the vaunted Steelers offense.

Shawn Williams had a pick-six against Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter, while Nick Vigil had a whopping 17 tackles. Still, JuJu Smith-Schuster became the third Steelers player to notch 110 or more receptions in a season, and the Pittsburgh defense sacked Driskel four times in their ugly win.

In getting to 9-6-1 with the win over the Bengals, Pittsburgh had a brief glimmer of hope to get into the playoffs. They needed the Browns to upset the Ravens on their home turf in order to win another AFC North crown. That became clear just a few minutes after the end result at Heinz Field.

This was also Marvin Lewis’ last game as the Bengals’ head coach, as he finishes his career with an 8-26 mark against Pittsburgh.

Browns at Ravens

Through a lot of drama this year, the Ravens just continue to find ways to get it done. Whether it was in a quarterback change in the middle of the season, or a massive amount of rumors about John Harbaugh, Baltimore tuned out the noise and got things done in a wild 26-24 win over Cleveland.

Rookie Baker Mayfield threw three touchdowns to set a rookie record in the category with 27 scores in 2018, but also threw three big interceptions in the loss. Jarvis Landry, Breshad Perriman and Antonio Callaway all had the scoring grabs, but the Browns defense just couldn’t contain Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ read-option offense.

Jackson only threw for 179 yards, but rushed for 90 more and two scores. Kenneth Dixon and Gus Edwards combined for 24 carries 193 yards, while Justin Tucker was 4-of-4 on field goals in the victory.

For the Browns, rumors have Gregg Williams being out of their coaching search, as the team hones in on names like Josh McDaniels, Mike McCarthy and others. Regardless, with Mayfield, Callaway, Landry, Nick Chubb and others, the future looks bright for Cleveland.

Baltimore, on the other hand, hosts the Chargers next weekend. The Ravens beat them in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, so this rematch provides a lot of intrigue.

Updated AFC North standings:

  1. Baltimore Ravens: 10-6 (3-3 in division, 8-4 in conference)
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-6-1 (3-2-1 in division, 6-5-1 in conference)
  3. Cleveland Browns 7-8-1 (3-2-1 in division, 5-6-1 in conference)
  4. Cincinnati Bengals: 6-10 (1-5 in division, 4-8 in conference)

Updated AFC Playoff Picture:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs: 12-4 (First in AFC West)
  2. New England Patriots: 11-5 (First AFC East)
  3. Houston Texans: 11-5 (First in AFC South)
  4. Baltimore Ravens: 10-6 (First in AFC North)
  5. Los Angeles Chargers: 12-4 (Second in AFC West, facing Ravens in Baltimore)
  6. Indianapolis Colts: 10-6 (Second in AFC South, facing Texans in Houston)