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Bengals News (12/14): AFC North as tight as can be

The AFC North will likely come down to the final week of the season.

Bengals looking at options for punt returner ahead of game at Denver Broncos
And maybe he didn't even know it. But after he met with his captains Monday, the defensive backs met with themselves. Which is not unusual for that group, but it tells you something about these guys because of Pro Football Focus' top 10 Bengals defensive players in Sunday's 26-23 overtime loss to the 49ers at Paul Brown Stadium, six are defensive backs.

Bengals building something special as the playoff chase heads to the final four games
On Sunday they suffered another maddening loss in the heart of the playoff race that cost them terribly, this one in overtime despite outgaining and out quarterbacking a very good 49ers team with a proven winner at quarterback in a hard-to-take 26-23 loss at Paul Brown Stadium.

NFL Power Rankings Week 15: Bengals and Ravens fall while 49ers and Broncos rise
The Week 15 NFL Power Rankings won’t have some of the massive swings that have occurred in recent weeks, but there is still plenty of movement as teams become more injured or continue to show their true selves. Frankly, there are a lot of bad football teams in the NFL this season. Heck, even some of the talented clubs have been unimaginably underwhelming in 2021. But there are also young and exciting teams that, while inconsistent, make for one heck of a wild ride week to week.

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie Weighs in on Vonn Bell's Taunting Penalty
"That's just a ridiculous call on my end. I just don't really think it was a taunting penalty. There's things in the game, it's just gamesmanship, it's not necessarily like flexing on somebody or standing over them or stepping on them," Awuzie said. "Vonn just picked up the ball, ran by the guy (Alex Mack), the guy acted like he was gonna tackle him and Vonn just kinda pointed at him. The guy just turned around, I don't think if you ask him (Mack), he'd say he felt disrespected."

NFL Week 14 Takeaways: Bears, Bengals, Bucs, and Bills
The games that you expected to be entertaining in the 1 p.m EST slate — Las Vegas Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Football Team, and Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns — turned out to be disappointments. The Chiefs pounded the Raiders, the Ravens lost Lamar Jackson to injury in the first half and did nothing with a late onside kick recovery, and that game at FedEx Field was all Cowboys until a terrible fourth quarter turnover brought Washington within seven points.

AFC North race: Browns' win over Ravens, Bengals' OT loss to 49ers tightens division battle from top to bottom
Does anyone want to win the AFC North? It certainly doesn't look like it after the division went 1-3 in Week 14 competition. Through 14 weeks, the division's four teams are separated by just 1.5 games, with several intra-division games on tap during the season's final four weeks.

Around the league

Jaguars owner Shad Khan won't be 'impulsive' or act 'helter-skelter' deciding Urban Meyer's future
"I'm not impulsive," Khan told reporters Monday night, via the Associated Press. "I learned that a long time ago with anything that's this important you don't want to be impulsive. You want to look at exactly what I know first-hand, what people are telling me and then collect that and do the right thing."

2021 NFL season, Week 14: What we learned from Rams' win over Cardinals on Monday night
The consternation regarding the Rams' offense is overblown. Matthew Stafford is rounding back into form thanks to an expertly called offense that moved Cooper Kupp around to get him open Monday night. Odell Beckham Jr. is getting his feet under him and looks more like the superstar he once was than he has at any other point in the last four years (on Monday night, he posted his fastest top speed as a ball carrier since tearing his ACL last season).

NFL panic season: Ravens and Bills at risk of missing playoffs? Giants and Bears to initiate major changes?
These Bengals, now on the outside of the postseason field looking in, are too talented to miss the playoffs. They can't. Not after starting the season at 5-2, not after sweeping their longtime tormentors in Pittsburgh. This makes Sunday's game in Denver a must-win. After that, Cincinnati hosts Baltimore and Kansas City, before finishing the regular season in Cleveland. I don't care about improvements from last season -- Cincy has to snap a five-year postseason drought. The heat is on.

Bill Belichick scouting 'Hard Knocks In Season' in preparation for matchup against Colts
In the first episode of Hard Knocks In Season: The Indianapolis Colts, we learned that the information NFL teams are willing to make public, though awash in coach-speak and lacking by design any game-plan insight, doesn't go unnoticed by opposing teams.

Minority coaching candidates who deserve closer look in next NFL hiring cycle
Stepping in as emergency defensive play-caller in the absence of coordinator Joe Barry, who'd tested positive for COVID-19 days before a highly anticipated Thursday Night Football showdown with the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8, Gray dazzled on the prime-time stage. Under his direction, the Packers forced one of the NFL's most explosive offenses into three turnovers while limiting Kyler Murray to a 67.0 passer rating in his worst outing of 2021 so far. Most importantly, Green Bay handed Arizona its first loss, a 24-21 result that could end up having serious seeding implications in the NFC playoffs.