The wide open AFC North slammed its doors on Sunday, leaving two teams out in the winter cold. With the North decided, the AFC has sealed up all of the playoff spots. Now with just one week left, the NFC is the only conference still letting teams in the door.
It wasn’t a pretty game for either team offensively, but in the end the Bengals defense got it done and is sending Cincinnati to their second consecutive playoff berth for the first time since the 1981-82 seasons.
Cincinnati’s defense held the Steelers to just 280 total yards. Ben Roethlisberger ended the game with 220 yards and completed 14 of his 28 passes. The Steelers quarterback threw two interceptions and one long bomb to Antonio Brown for a 60 yard touchdown in the second quarter. Brown led the receivers with 97 receiving yards in the game, while Mendenhall was the team’s leading rusher with 50 yards on 11 carries.
The Steelers defense stepped up and forced the Bengals to win the game through the air, which they have not had to do in their last five matchups. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was held to just 14 yards on the ground and accounted for all of the Bengals rushing yards in the game.
Andy Dalton was 24 for 41 and threw for 278 yards and two interceptions in the win. A.J. Green led the receiver charge, picking up 116 yards on 10 receptions for the orange and black. Cincinnati’s only touchdown came from the defense. Leon Hall picked off Big Ben in the first quarter of play and returned the pick 17 yards for a touchdown. After that, the game was all Josh Brown.
Reggie Nelson picked off Roethlisberger at Cincinnati’s 44 yard line with 14 seconds on the clock. He returned the ball for 10 yards setting Andy Dalton and the struggling offense up for the win. Dalton hit Green for 21 yard gain on the sideline with eight seconds left on the clock. Josh Brown had his number called for the third time in the game when he lined up for a field goal kick that would ultimately seal Pittsburgh’s fate in the game. The kicker’s 37 yard attempt was good with three seconds left on the clock.
The game had a fitting ending after all of the offensive struggles throughout. Ben Roethlisberger hit Isaac Redman for a 22 yard pass. The running back coughed the ball up and Terence Newman picked up the fumble to end the game for the Bengals.
Final Score: Bengals 13, Steelers 10
Cleveland hit the road on the final weekend before Christmas to take on the Denver Broncos in Mile High Stadium. The Browns, who showed glimpses of hope throughout the season, were manhandled by Peyton Manning and the 12-3 Broncos.
Before Brandon Weeden left the game with injury, he threw for 104 yards and was 12 for 19 passing. Colt McCoy stepped in at quarterback in his place and threw for 79 yards and one touchdown in the loss. Trent Richardson picked up 53 yards on the ground before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. Greg Little was the beneficiary of Cleveland’s lone touchdown and led the receivers with 58 yards on six receptions.
Peyton Manning was phenomenal in the matchup, throwing for 339 yards and three touchdowns. His one interception picked off by Usama Young was the only mistake in his four quarters of play. Knowshon Moreno ran the ball 22 times for 78 yards, while Demaryius Thomas led the receiving team with 102 yards on nine receptions and one touchdown.
Final Score: Broncos 34, Browns 14
For Ravens fans, Christmas came early. Baltimore snapped their three game skid to clinch the AFC North division with a win over the inconsistent New York Giants.
Eli Manning was held to only 150 yards through the air and one touchdown. He only completed 50% of his passes, as he struggled in yet another game. Ahmad Bradshaw came back to the G-Men this week after being out with injury and rushed for 39 yards on nine carries. He was followed up by David Wilson, who picked up 17 yards on three carries and one touchdown.
In the win, Joe Flacco threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens picked up 224 yards on the ground led by Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice. Pierce picked up 123 yards on 14 carries and Ray Rice added 107 yards on 24 carries on the ground. Anquan Boldin was Baltimore’s leading receiver with 93 yards on seven receptions.
Final Score: Ravens 33, Giants 14