Steelers: Dismal December Leaves Pittsburgh Needing Help
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in an uncomfortable situation, needing help to make the playoffs with one game left in the regular season.
Sunday's 31-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints was disheartening for Pittsburgh on many levels. The Ravens (9-6) now hold a ½-game lead in the division, and they can clinch the AFC North by beating the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
If the Ravens beat Cleveland, the Steelers will almost surely miss the playoffs, even if they beat the Cincinnati Bengals. Pittsburgh can only be a wild card if the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans play to a tie.
The Steelers (8-6-1) haven't missed the playoffs since 2013, and they held a 2 ½ game lead over the Ravens heading into Week 11. But losing four of their last five games has left the Steelers in serious trouble. Head Coach Mike Tomlin says they have no one else to blame.
"We made the bed, we'll lay in it," Tomlin told the media following Sunday's loss. "I'll expect us to lay in it very well and perform. … Like everyone else, we've had 15 opportunities to this point to state a case for ourselves so we won't lament about our positioning."
For most of the season, the Steelers were in the driver's seat in the AFC North. That seat now belongs to the Ravens.
Browns: After Sweeping Bengals, Cleveland Hopes to Sweep Ravens
Cleveland (7-7-1) won for the fifth time in six games Sunday, defeating the Bengals, 26-18. The Browns swept the season series against Cincinnati for the first time since 2002.
Now the Browns focus on the Ravens, who Cleveland hopes to sweep as well. The stakes are much higher than in Week 5, when the Ravens lost to Cleveland, 12-9, in overtime. The Ravens need this game to win the AFC North. The Browns need this game to finish above .500 for the first time since 2007, which was also the last year they swept the Ravens.
Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is the player who makes the Browns go. He threw three touchdown passes Sunday and he has completed 64.6 percent of his passes, close to the franchise record of 64.7 percent, set by Hall of Famer Otto Graham in 1953.
Mayfield looks like the answer to Cleveland's long-time quarterback issues. The next challenge for the Ravens' No. 1-ranked defense is to cool off Mayfield and the red-hot Browns.
Bengals: Long Season Will Come to an End
The Bengals (6-9) have lost six of their last seven and will finish in last place for the first time since 2010. Several key players will be out for the Bengals on Sunday when they visit Pittsburgh, including quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green,[comma] who have both suffered season-ending injuries.
Cincinnati's biggest offensive threat is running back Joe Mixon, who went over 1,000 yards (1,063) for the first time in his career Sunday. Mixon's play is one of the few bright spots for Cincinnati. However, the Bengals will have many questions to address once their season ends.
The Bengals close out their season with a trip to Pittsburgh. Cincinnati was out of the playoff chance last year too, but still upset the Ravens in Week 17 to keep Baltimore out of the playoffs. Can they ensure Pittsburgh's elimination this year?