AFC North Report: Divisional games wrap up end of 2019 NFL regular season

Steel City Underground’s AFC North Report looks at the state of the division with the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 of the 2019 NFL regular season.

Week 17. The final week of games for the 2019-20 NFL regular season. It’s almost hard to believe. The biggest matchup to watch in the AFC North will be between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers because they are the only teams in the division with post-season opportunity on the line. The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals may not be contesting for the playoffs but both teams would like to make their second “Battle of Ohio” meeting an actual contest versus a blowout.

Looking back, there were very few experts that thought the state of the division would be what it has become. The Browns were predicted to run away with the “North”, while the Steelers and Ravens were supposed to be contenders. How a few weeks of play can turn everything on its head, huh?

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Steelers at Ravens

The second meeting between these two teams this season will have a different feel to it and look a lot differently due to personnel changes. With the Steelers experiencing the bitter bite of injury after injury this season, their roster will once again be shaken up as the latest news that Mason Rudolph has been placed on injured/reserved due to a shoulder injury sustained in the 17-10 loss to the New York Jets in Week 16. With John Harbaugh opting to rest Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram, at the least, after his Ravens team already punched their way into the post-season, it’s clear that Baltimore would simply like to prevent their divisional opponent from getting into the post-season.

Pittsburgh can still make it into post-season play if they were to lose in Baltimore, but they’d be facing a second year in a row where they must count on other teams to help them. The Steelers would have to rely on the Tennessee Titans losing to the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts beating the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Steelers activated quarterback Paxton Lynch to the roster and added J.T. Barrett to the practice squad but look to ask Devlin Hodges to make the start. Hodges hasn’t played well in the past two weeks and with several injuries to key players to deal with once again, it may come down to just how effective Pittsburgh’s defense can be against the players Harbaugh chooses to dress.

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Browns at Bengals

Regardless of what the future of Cleveland head coach Freddie Kitchens’ future may be, the Browns would love to grab a win after being blown out by the Ravens in Week 16. And while Cincinnati hardly looks like tough competition after earning just a single win during the entire regular season, they’d enjoy knocking the Browns down another notch if possible, bringing all that early-season hype back down out of the clouds.

Meanwhile, the Bengals really have nothing to lose. They’ve locked up the No. 1 draft selection for the 2020 NFL Draft. So, this game may not be the most competitive match to watch but there are plenty of personalities on both sides (on both teams) that would like one more opportunity this season to grab a win.

Final Thoughts

This year’s AFC North has not been the dominant division it has been in the past. Yes, the Ravens have clearly made it clear they are heading into the post-season with a chip on their shoulder and plenty to prove. They’ve given plenty of teams across the league fits in matching up with their ability to get hot on offense and put a ton of points on the scoreboard. Much of that has been thanks to the play of Jackson.

The final week of the regular season is unlikely to truly redefine the division, either, even if the Steelers were to eke out a win and somehow sneak their way into the playoffs on one leg and a prayer.

Overall, the story of the 2019-20 season in the AFC North has been one of the changes, adversity, and overcoming injury to remain competitive. How that narrative changes in 2020 remains to be seen.

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