With only three regular-season games left, playoff positioning is of the utmost importance around the NFL. In the AFC North, all four teams are in the hunt, albeit in varying degrees. But with the conference as a whole starting to logjam, the weeks ahead are fraught with the talk of ‘must-win’ contests.
With that kind of pressure, there is no lack of news coming out of the Cleveland Browns’ divisional rivals. Here’s what’s up with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals as we head into Week 15.
While the 7-5-1 Steelers are currently atop the AFC North standings, Sunday’s meeting with the dreaded New England Patriots could heavily swing the momentum in the division. Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman breaks down Pittsburgh’s playoff scenarios for the week, while Anthony Defeo points out that the Steelers are in very deep trouble, just one loss away from potentially missing out on the postseason entirely.
In an attempt to reverse their three-game losing streak, the Steelers made—or considered making—a few adjustments this week. Hartman reports that the team held kicker tryouts on Wednesday after Chris Boswell missed two field-goal attempts in Sunday’s loss to the Oakland Raiders. Kai Forbath and Matt McCrane came to town to compete with Boswell. While the team chose to make no change at the position, former Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham has been brought in to assist Boswell, and Simon Chester reports that the team still has Forbath “on hold”. Meanwhile, it appears that cornerback Cam Sutton may have taken Mike Hilton’s job covering the slot, reports Chester.
After helping carry the Ravens to a 3-1 record over his four starts and keeping the team firmly in the playoff picture, the team made it official on Wednesday: Lamar Jackson is the Baltimore’s starting quarterback—period. After missing time with a hip injury, former starter Joe Flacco has been cleared to play but will be serving as Jackson’s backup in Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As Baltimore Beatdown’s Jacob Loque wrote, “it appears the future has arrived as Jackson is the undisputed starter for the first time in his Ravens career.” Look for Flacco to certainly play elsewhere in 2019.
With Jackson’s and Flacco’s skill set very different, Baltimore’s offense has had to adjust and adapt. But perhaps it’s an evolution; that’s what Logan Levy argues in this week’s Film Room. On Jackson, Levy notes that, “They need to work on limiting Jackson’s touches, while also not changing his game,” and says that one of the team’s strong suits is “turning 1st and 10 into 2nd and manageable.”
The Bengals are at 5-8 on the season, and are now fourth in the AFC North standings. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, having lost both starting quarterback Andy Dalton and top wideout A.J. Green, combined with their at-present five wins, almost certainly guarantees no postseason football for Cincinnati. Injuries, as mentioned, have been a true burden for the Bengals this season, and Cincy Jungle’s Jason Marcum has the latest updates on both Green (who underwent surgery on his toe this week) and tight end Tyler Eifert, who suffered a broken ankle earlier this season.
In terms of their present injury report ahead of Sunday’s meeting with the Raiders, the Bengals are relatively healthy. Marcum reports that only three players were not practicing in any capacity on Wednesday: linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive end Michael Johnson are both in the concussion protocol, and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is dealing with an ankle injury.