December 2, 2021

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Ravens loss to Dolphins opens the door for Steelers, rest of AFC North divisional field

Any thought of the Baltimore Ravens running away with the AFC North division crown had disappeared by the time Lamar Jackson threw an interception on the final offensive play of Baltimore’s surprising loss in Miami on Thursday night. While the loss dropped Baltimore to 6-3, the bigger loss was the Ravens’ lead in what is now an extremely tight division race. 

The Ravens’ lead over the suddenly-surging Steelers is down to a half game. Pittsburgh, the defending division champion and winner of four straight games, can claim first place in the North for the first time this season if it can take care of business at home Sunday against the 0-8 Detroit Lions. It would be quite the accomplishment for Pittsburgh, which through four weeks was all alone in last place in the division. The Steelers, who are 1-1 against divisional opponents, will host the Ravens in Week 13 before traveling to Baltimore in Week 18. 

Pittsburgh’s winning streak has been bolstered by the play of rookie running back Najee Harris, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a defense that has been led by T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward. Pittsburgh has also received steady leadership by coach Mike Tomlin, who on Monday night became the fourth-fastest coach in league history to reach 150 wins. 

Conversely, Thursday night exposed Baltimore’s subpar pass defense. The unit, ranked 31st in the NFL, allowed 290 passing yards between quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Tua Tagovailoa. Injuries have also taken a toll on the Ravens’ offense, as Jackson was sacked four times Thursday night. He was also the team’s leading rusher with just 39 yards. The Ravens will have to solve their issues on offense and in the secondary if they want to remain in contention to win the North during the second half of the season. 

The Cleveland Browns, who entered play last weekend as the division’s last-place team, moved out of the cellar after routing the Bengals in Cincinnati. The Browns will head to New England on Sunday to face the Patriots in a game between two 5-4 teams. Cleveland, which hasn’t won in New England since 1992, will face the Patriots without running back Nick Chubb, who is currently on the COVID-19 list. The Browns are also dealing with injuries to starters Myles Garrett (foot), Malik Jackson (knee), Jarvis Landry (knee), Baker Mayfield (shoulder/foot), and JC Tretter (knee). The Browns have four more games against AFC North foes that includes two games against Baltimore. 

Cincinnati was by themselves in first place in the North after a decisive win in Baltimore in Week 7. The Bengals, who were AFC’s top-seeded team following their 41-17 win over the Ravens, have come back to earth over the past several weeks. They were upset by the Jets in Week 8 behind Mike White’s 405 yards and three touchdown passes. A week later, a pick-six on Cincinnati’s first drive set the tone for the Bengals’ 41-16 loss to the visiting Browns. 

While they are 2-1 against divisional foes, the 5-4 Bengals are in last place by virtue of last Sunday’s loss to Cleveland. Cincinnati, who is currently on its bye week, can move back up into the third place spot in the North if the Browns fall in New England. The Bengals can get as high as second place in the North if both the Browns and Steelers fall on Sunday. Regardless, the Bengals have put themselves to play meaningful football late in the season for the first time in six years. 

Along with competing against each other, the division is also vying with the AFC West as it relates to the filling out the AFC playoff bracket. The only two divisions where every team has a winning record, it is highly likely that one of the divisions will boast three playoff teams when the postseason kickoffs off in January. How successful they are in games against each other may determine how many teams ultimately make it out of the North, a division that fielded three playoff teams a season ago. 


https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/ravens-loss-to-dolphins-opens-the-door-for-steelers-rest-of-afc-north-divisional-field/