Around the AFC North: Hot Bengals Plan to Be a Problem for Ravens

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Bengals WR Tee Higgins

Cincinnati Bengals: Confidence is High After Winning Two Straight

The Bengals hope to be a Week 17 problem for the Ravens.

Cincinnati (4-10-1) has won two straight games for the first time since 2018 and Head Coach Zac Taylor got his first road victory with Sunday’s 37-31 decision over the Houston Texans.

Brandon Allen has been hot at quarterback since replacing the injured Joe Burrow, completing 29 of 37 passes Sunday for 371 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Allen has completed 76.7 percent of his passes in his last two starts, taking steps to solidify his place as Burrow's backup next season.

The Ravens (10-5) can clinch a playoff spot by winning in Cincinnati on Sunday, but the Bengals don't plan on making it easy. Ravens fans already have bad memories of a similar situation three years ago. Baltimore needed a Week 17 victory over the Bengals, who were then 6-9, to clinch a playoff spot. But a game-winning 49-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd on fourth-and-12 with 44 seconds left knocked Baltimore out of the postseason.

Allen is playing well and has dangerous receivers to work with like rookie Tee Higgins (67 catches, 908 yards, six touchdowns), who is threatening to have a 1,000-yard season as a rookie. Boyd (78 catches, 840 yards, four touchdowns) sat out against the Texans because of a concussion but could return, and veteran A.J. Green has been more productive the past couple weeks.

It has been a challenging first two seasons as a head coach for Taylor, but he believes the Bengals are headed in the right direction, and they will be motivated to end the season by upsetting the Ravens. In Week 5, the Ravens dominated the Bengals, 27-3, who kicked a field goal with 32 seconds to play to avoid being shut out.

"We we've got our work cut out for us," Taylor said via Si.com. "It's a very strong team. When know what they (the Ravens) did to us the first time we played them. Our guys will be ready to play, and it's a great opportunity for us."

Cleveland Browns: Will Browns Make or Miss Playoffs in Week 17?

Cleveland (10-5) still hasn't clinched its first playoff birth since 2002, and after Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the New York Jets, it comes down to Week 17 for the Browns. A victory in Cleveland against the Pittsburgh Steelers would clinch a Cleveland wild-card berth. A loss would put the Browns in danger of missing the playoffs, again, which would add another demoralizing chapter to the team's history.

The Browns were missing their top four wide receivers (Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge) Sunday after they were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. They were placed on the list due to contact tracing after another player tested positive on Saturday.

However, despite working with a depleted receiving corps, Baker Mayfield blamed himself for Sunday's loss after he fumbled three times. He fumbled on the Browns' final two drives. Mayfield only took one question at his postgame videoconference, but he spoke for almost two minutes and summed up where the Browns stand, facing the biggest game of his career in Week 17.

"I have to hold onto the damn ball. This one is going to sting for a day or two, but we have the Steelers to win and get in," Mayfield said via CBS.Sports.com. "Yes, I am aware of what could have happened if we would have won today. But it is what it is. So, I'm going to roll with these punches."

Pittsburgh Steelers: Undecided on Resting Starters in Week 17

After clinching the AFC North with a comeback victory over the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers (12-3) are in a position to rest their starters when they face the Browns in Week 17. It has not been determined if the Steelers or Buffalo Bills (11-3) will be the No. 2 seed in the AFC. The Kansas City Chiefs have clinched the No. 1 seed, and the Steelers are guaranteed home field in the opening round of the playoffs.

Ben Roethlisberger completed 23 of 29 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns, rallying Pittsburgh from a 24-7 third quarter deficit to a 28-24 win. Head Coach Mike Tomlin was relieved Pittsburgh ended its three-game losing streak and had captured its first division title since 2017. The Steelers need the 38-year-old Roethlisberger healthy for the playoffs and Tomlin will have to decide whether to rest his quarterback and other starters against the Browns.

"We'll ponder those possibilities in the morning," Tomlin said via ESPN.com. "Tonight we're going to wear our hats and T-shirts. We've got some big battles that lie ahead, man. But today we're humbled and honored to be AFC North champs."

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