The AFC North playoff picture could be decided this weekend

Kate Arhar
Senior Sports Editor AFC North and NFC South

By Kate Arhar // @ClvlndK8 

With only a few games left in the season, for three teams in the AFC North, this weekend will have a huge impact on the playoff picture.

The Baltimore Ravens have been lighting things up and quarterback Lamar Jackson is  fast becoming a front-runner for league MVP.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns meet again for the much-anticipated re-match following their game-ending brawl of just two weeks ago.

And the Cincinnati Bengals are still fighting to get that first win of the season.

Let’s take a look at the games for this week…

 

 

 

 

 

Cincinnati Bengals (0-11) vs New York Jets (4-7)

Head Coach Zac Taylor has announced that quarterback Andy Dalton is back in the starting lineup. This is a real head-scratcher for me. Clearly, there are no playoff hopes here, so why wouldn’t they want to continue with Ryan Finley at QB to figure out for sure if he’s a keeper? Or have they given up and want to ensure that first pick in the draft and move on from both of these guys to NCAA star, and Ohio native, Joe Burrow? By the way… Dalton needs just one more touchdown pass to have the team record, so maybe it’s that simple?

However, since returning from his bout with mononucleosis, Jets QB Sam Darnold has slowly been hitting his stride. He’s playing much better and everything seems to have clicked for him. Sadly, I expect this game to be very one-sided…. Jets 34-10 over Bengals.

 

Baltimore Ravens (9-2) vs San Francisco 49ers (10-1)

QB Lamar Jackson has been quite simply amazing. Except for that one week against the Browns, defenses have not been able to figure him out or stop him. And all that talk about how a “running QB” can’t make it in this league, can’t stay healthy? Well, yeah, that’s just stopped. While I’m not saying he’s got a 10-year career ahead of him, I am saying until defenses figure out what to do with Jackson and his offense, they are going to keep winning games.

Enter the San Francisco 49ers. They’ve been completely overlooked and underrated for most of this season, but they just keep winning. QB Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle have been pretty special. And with injuries that put rookie Justin Skule in to protect Garoppolo at left tackle, the offense has been really good.

The key to this game is going to be defense…. both are ranked in the top five. I expect there to be quite a few turnovers this week, but I also expect that to slow down but not stop these offenses.  I’ll take the 49ers at home, 31-27.

 

Cleveland Browns (5-6) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)

It’s been a long time – a really long time – since the Browns have beaten the Steelers twice in one season. This week brings them that chance and yet everything the Browns have been doing right lately is completely overshadowed by the horrible events at the end of their Thursday night match-up against the Steelers just a couple weeks ago.

The resulting brawl left defensive end Myles Garrett suspended for the season and offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey out for three games. There will be tension in the stands amongst fans, not the usual “it’s rivalry week and we hate you” stuff, but actual anger on both sides over that rumble. With a history where players have actually been ejected for fighting during pre-game warm-ups, this could be a powder keg of aggression.

HOPEFULLY, both sides will keep clear heads and just play the game. Steeler QB Mason Rudolph has been benched and “Duck” Devlin Hodges will be in under center. Browns QB Baker Mayfield has led his team on a three-game winning streak with help from an offense that finally looks like what we expected in the offseason.

Unless the Browns do really stupid things – penalties, turnovers – and we’ve all seen them do that stuff – they should win this game easily. But the Steelers may be more emotionally invested in getting the win and sometimes, that’s the edge a less talented team needs to get the win. Call me a homer, but I’m still taking the Browns 41-23 over the Steelers.

 

Talk AFC North with Kate on Twitter / @ClvlndK8 

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