Around the AFC North: Joe Burrow Smokes Cigar As Bengals Celebrate Winning Division

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) celebrates as he leaves the field after a last second win of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, January 2, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cincinnati Bengals: Rowdy Locker Room After Bengals Make Playoffs

Clinching the AFC North title and making the playoffs for the first time since 2015, the Bengals danced and smoked cigars after their comeback 34-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Cincinnati proved something to naysayers coming off a 4-11-1 season and facing criticism for the decision to draft wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase fifth overall instead of an offensive lineman to protect Joe Burrow. Chase has immediately become one of the NFL's most explosive players with the most receiving yards (1,429) ever by a rookie.

Burrow has played every game and is fourth in the league in passing yards, leaving no doubt about his status as the team's franchise quarterback for years to come.

The Bengals didn't back into the playoffs. They barged in with a division-clinching win over the Chiefs, overcoming a 14-point deficit and beating a team that had won eight straight games. Chase set a franchise record with 266 receiving yards and Burrow engineered the game-winning drive with the swagger he has shown since entering the league.

Burrow, who threw for 525 yards against the Ravens and set the NFL record for most passing yards in two games (971), reminded people that the Bengals had plenty of doubters when the season began.

"We were talking about the playoffs, and I said the goal was the playoffs and the easiest way to do that is to win the division," Burrow said via Ben Baby of ESPN.com. "Everyone kind of laughed at us a little bit, but we knew the kind of team we had and the kind of guys in the locker room we had, and we knew we could go out and do it."

The Bengals close out the regular season against the Cleveland Browns, then it's on to the playoffs against an opponent yet to be determined. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1991, and Head Coach Zac Taylor said he knows Burrow isn't satisfied with just making the playoffs after winning a national championship at LSU.

"We had expectations for him, and so far he's exceeded those expectations," Taylor said via the team's website. "He's got championships on his brain — he's not just a guy winning big regular season games. I know that's why he's here — he's always playing for championships. He's playing for championships in high school, he played for championships in college, and his expectation has always been to compete for championships here. We've got a lot to work to do — we're not even close yet to doing all these great things. This team jumps on his back, and he'll carry us as far as we let him."

Pittsburgh Steelers: Steelers Win Would Help Ravens

The Steelers' playoff hopes are slim and they must win on Monday Night Football against the Cleveland Browns to avoid elimination. The Ravens' playoff chances are also very slim, and they need the Browns to lose at least one more game to have chance to get in.

So a Pittsburgh win over the Browns would help the Ravens, although the Steelers have other things on their mind in what is expected to be Ben Roethlisberger's last home game at Heinz Field.

For almost two decades, Roethlisberger has been a part of Steelers football.

He wants to go out a winner, via the Steelers website.

"My focus is on winning this game," Roethlisberger said. "If it is indeed my last regular-season game there, it's going to be one of the most important game of my career."

Cleveland Browns: Eliminated From Playoff Contention

The Browns didn't expect to enter Monday night's game playing the spoiler role, but they were eliminated from playoff contention after the results of Sunday's game.

The Browns were a preseason favorite to win the AFC North with an offense loaded with weapons and a defense that had been upgraded via free agency and the draft. Now Cleveland enters the offseason with a lot of questions.

The future of quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has been inconsistent this season playing through injuries, will be a hot topic of conversation in Cleveland this offseason, and ESPN analyst and former NFL analyst Brian Griese said he would take a hard look at Mayfield during the game.

"We've seen him go to throw and cock and pump quite a bit and pull it back. To me, that's indecision on the part of a quarterback," Griese said via The Akron Beacon Journal. "I think part of it is he hasn't been on the same page with his receivers enough. That, as much as anything, tells me that he's not comfortable.

"When you're comfortable as a quarterback, you see the defense, you get into the right play, you get to the top of your drop and then you pull the trigger and there's no hesitation. That's what I'll be looking for on Monday night. Is he able to eliminate the hesitation, communicate with his receivers what he wants them to do against each look and then execute? That's, I think, what he's been missing."

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