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Around the AFC North: Division Still Up for Grabs After Steelers' Third Straight Loss


Steelers: Another Close Loss Leaves Steeles Clinging to Division Lead

The AFC North remains up for grabs after the Steelers were upset in Oakland on Sunday. Pittsburgh is just ½ game ahead of the Ravens with three games remaining, and the Steelers face two of the NFL's toughest opponents next. They have a home game vs. the New England Patriots (9-4) on Sunday, followed by a road contest against the New Orleans Saints (11-2) on Dec. 23.

The Steelers (7-5-1) have lost three consecutive games for the first time all season, and now they have concerns regarding quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's health and Chris Boswell's kicking accuracy. Roethlisberger missed Sunday's third quarter and part of the fourth with a rib injury, while Boswell missed two field goals, including a 40-yarder in the final seconds that would have forced overtime. Boswell has missed six field goals and five extra points this year.

Roethlisberger returned to Sunday's game in the fourth quarter and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster that temporarily gave Pittsburgh a 21-17 lead. But after Sunday's game, neither Roethlisberger or Head Coach Mike Tomlin were very forthcoming about how sore Roethlisberger's ribs were.

"Ben had a rib injury," Tomlin told reporters. "He was able to come back into the game. Nothing else to specifically mention."

The Ravens would love to win the AFC North for the first time since 2012, which would secure them a home playoff game. At one point, Pittsburgh led the division by 2 ½ games. Now the Steelers are in danger of losing the division lead, and perhaps a playoff spot as well.

Browns: Victory Over Panthers Moves Cleveland Out of Cellar

Cleveland has responded to interim coach Gregg Williams and Offensive Coordinator Freddie Kitchens, who are 3-2 since taking over for Hue Jackson. The Browns' latest victory was a 26-20 decision over the Carolina Panthers as Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 238 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

The Browns (5-7-1) have won more games under Williams than they did in 2016 and 2017 combined. Regardless of who becomes the Browns' next head coach, they have a young talented nucleus that includes Mayfield, and running back Nick Chubb, defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward.

Sunday's victory lifted the Browns over the Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) into third place in the AFC North. The last time the Browns didn't in last place in the division was 2010.

One of the Browns' victories this season came in Week 5 when they defeated the Ravens, 12-9, in overtime. Cleveland will visit M&T Bank Stadium in the regular-season finale Dec. 30, in a game that could have major playoff implications for the Ravens. Theoretically, the Browns could be in the division title chase too if they were win out.

Bengals: Loss to Chargers Continues Downward Spiral

That's seven losses in the last eight games for Cincinnati, after a 26-21 defeat against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Running back Joe Mixon (26 carries, 111 yards) could be on his way to a 1,000-yard season, but he is one of the few bright spots lately in Cincinnati. With quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green out for the season, quarterback Jeff Driskell completed 18 of 27 passes for 170 yards, but the Bengals' offense has lost much of its explosiveness without Green stretching the field.

If the Bengals suffer two more losses, it will be their first 10-loss season since 2010. They will travel to Pittsburgh in Week 17, looking to play spoiler like they did in Baltimore last year.

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