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AFC North Standings: Bengals in control but Browns can play spoiler

Cincinnati is nearing a playoff berth, but it’s no done deal.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

There is finally some clarity in the AFC North.

The Cincinnati Bengals’ overwhelming 41-21 victory over an undermanned Baltimore Ravens squad gave the Bengals a one-game cushion over the Ravens with two games to play.

The Bengals are guaranteed a playoff berth with a victory in one of its final two games and can still get in with a pair of losses and some luck. They improved to 9-6 with the win, while Baltimore dropped to 8-7.

For the Ravens to win the division, they’ll have to win at home vs. the Los Angeles Rams next week, then do the same vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18, while having the Bengals lose out.

Cleveland, on the heels of a 24-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers, fell to 7-8, while Pittsburgh, now 7-7-1, got blown away in Kansas City, 36-10.

However, against all odds, the Browns still have a clear path to winning the division...

Steelers blown out as playoff hopes crumbling

Despite the beatdown at the hands of the Chiefs, Pittsburgh still has a chance to make the playoffs with victories in its final two games, at home against Cleveland and on the road at Baltimore.

But the Steelers are going to have to play a lot better than they did Sunday. And they will need some help. Pittsburgh is currently the No. 11 seed, and only the top 7 teams get in.

While the Steelers’ offense continued to struggle, it was the Steelers’ defense that just couldn’t get out of its own way. Kansas City scored the first four times it touched the ball (three touchdowns and a field goal) and jumped out to a 30-0 lead.

Ben Roethlisberger finished the day 23 of 35 for 159 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while running back Najee Harris 93 yards on 19 carries to lead a solid ground game.

Patrick Mahomes, who the Bengals welcome to Paul Brown Stadium next week, put together another solid performance by completing 23 of 30 attempts for 258 yards and three touchdowns as the Chiefs clinched their sixth straight AFC West division title.

Browns can’t overcome mistakes vs. Packers

Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions in the first half alone, but the Browns still had a chance to pull out a victory when they took over at their own 25-yard-line with just over two minutes to play.

The Browns drove to midfield before Mayfield’s fourth interception sealed the loss.

Running back Nick Chubb helped keep Cleveland in contention with 126 yards on only 17 carries (an average of 7.4 yards per carry), but the vaunted Browns’ defense couldn’t get much pressure on Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who finished 24 for 34 for 202 yards and three touchdowns.

Mayfield was sacked five times and hit six more times as he struggled through an evening where he completed 21 of 36 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with his four interceptions.

”It was just missed throws,” Mayfield said after the game. “Uncharacteristic, and I hurt this team.”

While the Browns are now 7-8, there’s a very real chance they’ll play for the AFC North title in Week 18.

Next week, the Bengals have a very difficult game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Even with a good performance, it won’t be any surprise if the surging Chiefs win and drop the Bengals to 9-7.

Meanwhile, the Browns play at Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football next week. If they win that game and the Bengals lose, the Browns will then win the AFC North with a home win over the Bengals in Week 18.

So while the Bengals appear likely to win the division, do not, by any stretch, count out Cleveland.