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AFC North Roundup: December 21, 2017

It’s the holiday season and the rest of the AFC North was thoughtful enough to gift us with these newsworthy gems.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the penultimate week of the 2017 NFL season, which means it’s time to start thinking about the future. In the AFC North that means the playoffs for some teams, and searching for the next head coach for others. Here’s what’s going on around the Browns’ home division for this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The results of the annual Pro Bowl voting are in and the Pittsburgh Steelers have the league’s most players nominated to the January exhibition. Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman has the breakdown of everyone getting first-team invites, but there is one clear snub: Defensive end Cameron Heyward. Heyward, who is an under-the-radar Defensive Player of the Year candidate, is not an alternate on this year’s roster, either.

Also: While receiver Antonio Brown’s calf injury has gotten the most attention this week, another Steelers player has landed on injured reserve and it could affect Pittsburgh’s playoff run. Backup running back James Conner was IR’d this week with an MCL injury suffered against the New England Patriots in Week 15. The Steelers signed Stevan Ridley to serve as the backup to Le’Veon Bell; Fitzgerald Toussaint is the team’s other main-roster back.

Baltimore Ravens: The Baltimore Ravens also have a representative contingent at the Pro Bowl, with inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Eric Weddle all voted in. However, there were obvious snubs, including this week’s AFC Special Teams Player of the Week punter Sam Koch and kicker Justin Tucker, who, as Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle P. Barber points out, is the most accurate kicker in league history.

Also: Ravens fans aren’t concerned with the Pro Bowl, though; the Super Bowl is clearly in their sights. However, Baltimore is the AFC’s current seventh seed, meaning there will be a need for help over these next two weeks in order for the Ravens to head to the postseason. Matthew Cohen has fired up the playoff machine to break down the scenarios that lead to the Ravens to be the AFC North’s second representative in this year’s championship race.

Cincinnati Bengals: Though he hasn’t said as much, it appears that current Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis will abdicate his position at the end of the 2017 season. Cincy Jungle’s Patrick Judis has a roundup of all the latest news about the futures of both Lewis and the Bengals’ top job, while Nick Manchester takes a look at the potential candidates to take over in 2018, including current Browns head coach Hue Jackson.

Also: The Bengals will finally have linebacker Vontaze Burfict back on the field for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. Jason Marcum reports that Burfict took part in Thursday’s practice after missing Wednesday’s session. Burfict has been sidelined since suffering a concussion in Week 13 against the Steelers.