American Football

AFC North Recap, Week 16: Ravens clinch playoff berth, Steelers keep hopes alive


Las Vegas Raiders v Pittsburgh Steelers
Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

Week 16 was a big one for playoff implications in the AFC North. With a narrow victory in New England, their seventh in a row, the Bengals maintained their slim lead atop the division. Because the Bengals won and they took care of business at home with a win of their own, the Ravens officially secured a postseason ticket.

Meanwhile, the Browns’ were eliminated from playoff contention following a seven-point loss at home. On Sunday night, the Steelers used some late-game magic to remain alive in the playoff picture, creeping closer to .500.

Updated standings:

  1. Cincinnati Bengals 11-4
  2. Baltimore Ravens 10-5
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-8
  4. Cleveland Browns 6-9

Cincinnati Bengals v New England Patriots
Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Cincinnati Bengals

Result: Win over New England Patriots, 22-18

It was a tale of two halves for the Bengals in Foxborough. After dominating the first two quarters and leading 22-0 at halftime, the Bengals nearly squandered a three-possession lead and lost. They were outscored 18-0 in the second half and consecutive touchdown drives by the Patriots in the fourth quarter had them in position to come all the way back.

However, following a late fumble by Ja’Marr Chase with just over three minutes remaining, the Bengals’ defense came through — forcing a fumble of their own. Vonn Bell took the ball away from Rhamondre Stevenson on a first-and-goal rush with 55 seconds left in the game.

A fourth down stop with nine seconds left then sealed the deal. In the first half, the Bengals scored two touchdowns and a field to begin the game. Then, another touchdown just before halftime. In the second half, they had two turnovers, a missed field goal, and punted on the other three drives.

Nevertheless, Cincinnati still had a significant advantage in essentially every category including time of possession, first downs, total yards, etc. Joe Burrow threw for 375 yards with three touchdowns and was intercepted twice, including one for a pick-six. Their escape with a victory keeps them atop the division.

Atlanta Falcons v Baltimore Ravens
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Baltimore Ravens

Result: Win over Atlanta Falcons, 17-9

Playing their third straight game without Lamar Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens grinded out another gritty victory to secure a postseason berth. The Ravens’ defense did not allow a touchdown for the third consecutive home game and gave up less than 14 points for the fourth straight game overall.

In the second quarter, Marlon Humphrey’s forced fumble on Falcons’ wideout Drake London was a turning point. The Ravens turned that into a 13-play, 70-yard drive in which they ate almost seven minutes off clock. Demarcus Robinson capped it off with the first touchdown from a Ravens’ wide receiver since Week 3.

Baltimore’s defense was able to hold the Falcons to field goals in the red zone at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter. Then, Justin Tucker’s field goal at the beginning of the fourth frame gave them the two-possession cushion they needed.

Led again by Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, the Ravens rushed for nearly 200 yards overall on a clip of over 5.0 yards per carry. Baltimore ran the ball 34 times compared to just 17 pass attempts from Tyler Huntley. The Ravens ran 17 less plays than the Falcons and possessed the ball for five fewer minutes.

New Orleans Saints v Cleveland Browns
Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Cleveland Browns

Result: Loss to New Orleans Saints, 10-17

The Browns’ slim playoff chances officially diminished following an uneven performance in Week 16. After holding a 10-3 lead over the Saints at halftime, the Browns were outscored 14-0 in the third quarter and shut out offensively in the entire second half.

Neither team did much of note on offense. However, the Browns ran 13 more plays than New Orleans yet had just one more first down and five more total yards. Cleveland converted on just one of three tries both in the red zone and on fourth down.

With the game tied 10-10 late in the fourth quarter, Deshaun Watson was intercepted in the Browns’ own territory. Four plays and 15 yards later, the Saints scored a touchdown to take their first lead of the game at 17-10. From there, the Browns punted and turned the ball over on downs two times in a row.

Cleveland ran the ball 34 times but averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. Watson attempted 31 passes and struggled, completing just 15 of them for 131 yards. Defensively, the Browns did more than enough to win but Cleveland’s continued offensive struggles did them in.

Las Vegas Raiders v Pittsburgh Steelers
Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers

Result: Win over Las Vegas Raiders, 13-10

The Steelers used a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter to earn their fourth victory in the past five games. In doing so, they kept their outside shot at the playoffs alive and are two wins away from another winning season under Mike Tomlin.

Through three quarters, the Steelers scored just three points and they trailed 10-3. To that point, they missed two field goals and turned the ball over at the beginning of the second half. Unsurprisingly, Pittsburgh’s defense kept them in the game long enough for the offense to pull one touchdown drive out of their hat.

George Pickens’ touchdown reception with 46 seconds remaning capped off a 10-play, 76-yard drive in just over two minutes, which gave the Steelers a 13-10 advantage. Then, Cam Sutton intercepted Derek Carr a few plays later to seal the deal on a Pittsburgh win.

That was the Steelers’ third forced interception of the second half. On the Raiders’ other three drives in the second half, they punted the ball away. The Steelers outgained Las Vegas by a 350 to 201 advantage with 13 more first downs.

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