AFC North Breakdown: Week 15


(David Wellman writes for Stripe Hype which is FSB’s Bengals blog. Representing the rest of the AFC North are The Ebony Bird, Dawg Pound Daily, and Nice Pick Cowher)

Week 15 in the AFC North saw the Pittsburgh Steelers capture the division title thanks in part to a controversial call in their showdown with the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals commence their annual Dead Cat Bounce, and the Cleveland Browns spiral into oblivion.

Baltimore Ravens (9-5):

Looking Back: Baltimore’s Cinderella season under rookie head coach John Harbaugh and rookie QB Joe Flacco cracked a glass slipper last weekend when the Ravens fell to Pittsburgh 13-9. The Steelers victory came in part thanks to a a controversial replay ruling that gave Pittsburgh the winning score. With the win, the Steelers clinched the division title, while Baltimore slipped to the top of a three-way tie for the last AFC wild card spot. In the final weeks, 9-5 Miami faces Kansas City and the New York Jets, 9-5 New England draws Arizona and Buffalo, and the Ravens go to Dallas and finish up at home against Jacksonville.

Looking Forward: Baltimore heads off to Dallas to face the Cowboys in a Saturday night NFL Network tilt. The Boys are coming off a big win against the division rival Giants, and are now the 5th seed in the NFC playoffs. However, 6th seed Tampa is also 9-5, and 9-5 Atlanta, currently on the outside looking in, looks to pounce if either the Cowboys or Bucs falter. With both teams’ playoff destinies at risk, this promises to be a second bare-knuckle brawl for the Ravens.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-11-1):

Looking Back: With their upset 20-13 victory over the Washington Redskins, the Bengals end the season 1-2-1 against the NFC East, and 1-9 (so far) against everyone else. The win heralds the acceleration of the “Dead Cat Bounce,” a term used by Bengals fans during the Lost Decade of the Nineties to describe the team’s habit of starting horribly (usually 0-6 or worse) then winning a handful of meaningless games at the end of the year that (one) ensures the team selects just low enough the following April to miss out on the true blue-chippers and (two) allows management to claim that things are going in the right direction and that no major changes need to be made. After starting 0-8, the Bengals have gone 2-3-1 with games against 2-12 Kansas City and 4-10 Cleveland to go.

Looking Forward: The Bengals travel to Cleveland for their final division game of the year. Their first meeting boasted Carson Palmer versus Derek Anderson, while the second will feature Ryan Fitzpatrick versus Ken Dorsey. Shoot. Me. Now.

Cleveland Browns (4-10):

Looking Back: After a 10-win campaign last season, the Cleveland Browns were Monday night darlings; after this season they will be lucky to get an NFL Network game. The Philadelphia Eagles ran them over in their quest for a playoff spot. Their defense couldn’t stop either Donovan McNabb or Brian Westbook, and the Dorsey-led offense couldn’t score to save Romeo Crennel’s career. WR Braylon Edwards continued his strong string of Monday night games, but when you have a 97-yard interception return that ends in no points, well, you’re the Browns. (In game comment: LOL. Jon Runyan looks like he’s pounding vodka on the sideline in the 4th. Heck, may as well, the Eagles are up 23-3. Comment 2: OK, another Dorsey pick, I’m filing this and calling it a night. If somehow the Browns manage a miracle comeback, well, my bad. Comment 3: Shoot, I can’t even finish editing the post before the Eagles score again. Browns suck.)

Looking Forward: The Browns host the Bengals next weekend, after which they finish up the season against Pittsburgh. They may actually have a better chance in the final game, since Pittsburgh has clinched a first-round bye and may be resting players.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3):

Looking Back: The Ravens made them fight for it, but once again the Steelers come away with the AFC North division crown. The Steelers’ anemic 24th-ranked offense did just enough to win, while Pittsburgh’s No. 1 defense clamped down on the Ravens. The Steelers held the Ravens to just 202 yards, picked Flacco twice and forced a fumble. The Ravens got in some licks of their own with three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles, and held Willie Parker to just 47 yards, but in the end Ben Roethlisberger authored a 12-play, 92 yard scoring drive with less than four minutes to play that culminated in the aforementioned controversial TD catch by Santonio Holmes. More than a third of Roethlisberger’s 246 passing yards — 89 — came on that final drive.

Looking Forward: Pittsburgh heads south to Tennessee to take on the Titans in a battle for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. While this could easily be a preview of the AFC title game, both teams have clinched first-round playoff byes. Look for both squads to rest players and keep playcalling conservative as they try to keep people fresh and save their last, best tricks for the postseason.