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AFC North Week 16 Recap: Who wins the division?

A great week for the division, especially when Cleveland loses. Who ultimately claims the division title?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

One way or another, the AFC North will be well represented in the NFL playoffs, which are scheduled to begin on Saturday, January 14th.

Cincinnati’s win over New England helped punch Baltimore’s ticket to the dance, and the Ravens stayed in contention for the division title after beating the Atlanta Falcons, 17-9.

Pittsburgh kept its slim playoff hopes alive with a 13-10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, while Cleveland fell out of consideration after losing to the New Orleans Saints by a score of 17-10.

Another Steelers miracle

The 2022 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers honored the passing of Steelers the legendary Franco Harris, author of the Immaculate Reception, with a little magic of its own Saturday.

With Pittsburgh trailing 10-6 and just over three minutes left, quarterback Kenny Pickett directed the Steelers on a 10-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a 14-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens and gave Pittsburgh its first lead of the day.

Probably the biggest play of the drive came on fourth-and-one at the Raiders’ 15-yard-line, which Pickett converted with only inches to spare. The Steelers’ defense cemented the win when Cam Sutton intercepted Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr for the third time in the game.

Pickett finished with 26 completions in 39 attempts for 244 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Tight end Pat Freiermuth led all receivers with seven receptions for 66 yards. Neither team could generate much on the ground, with Najee Harris accounting for only 53 yards on 16 carries.

Another Cleveland disappointment

Cleveland ended yet another disappointing season on the outside looking in. At least the Browns made it interesting.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson drove Cleveland to the Saints’ 15-yard-line in the final minute of play, but was sacked on fourth down by Carl Granderson with 19 seconds left to end the Browns’ postseason aspirations.

Cleveland very nearly pulled this one out, though, as tight end David Njoku let a sure touchdown pass slip through his hands just one play earlier.

“Very disappointing,” Browns star defensive end Myles Garrett said. “It is not where we want to be. It is not where we expected to be at the beginning of the season.”

Watson continued to struggle in his fourth game back since his return from suspension, and managed to complete just 15 of 31 passes for 135 yards in the blustery conditions. .

Nick Chubb did at least provide Cleveland with a little spark on the ground as he rushed for 92 yards on 24 carries, but the Browns’ offense was able to generate much of anything else.

Baltimore smothers Falcons

As has been the case since quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered a knee injury against the Denver Broncos in Week 13, Baltimore once again turned to its defense in improving its record to 10-5. The Ravens kept Atlanta out of the end zone in winning for the second time in three games without Jackson.

Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley completed 9/17 passes for 115 yards and a first-half touchdown and Gus Edwards ran for 99 yards on just 11 carries against the Falcons, who saw their record slip to 5-10 and watched their slim playoff hopes slip away. Atlanta had entered the afternoon just one game behind Tampa Bay for the NFC North Division lead.

“It was good Ravens football,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “Shout-out to the defense who had a great game. Special teams and all that. But when you get a day like this, cold weather and adverse conditions, any time you come out victorious, it’s a good win.”

The win marked the 14th straight time that Baltimore had out-rushed its opponents, a franchise record. The final margin against the Falcons was 184-115.

Heading into Week 17, the Bengals hold a one-game lead for the division title with a chance to clinch with a win over the Buffalo Bills and a Ravens loss to the Steelers.

With the Ravens already having clinched a Wild Card berth if they don’t win the division, could that lead to Lamar Jackson sitting out until the playoffs to make sure he’s fully healthy?

During his Monday press conference, head coach John Harbaugh stayed mum on Jackson’s status heading into the final two-game stretch of the regular season.

All told, who ultimately comes away with the AFC North Crown? Sound off in the poll below and in the comments section!

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