It’s Week 14 of the 2018 NFL season, and no AFC North team has yet to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. While some—the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers—have better chances than others—the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals—that doesn’t change the fact that the final weeks of the year are critical for all four members of the division.
And in this critical time, critical developments have unfolded around the division. Here’s what Browns fans need to know about the AFC North for this week.
Steelers running back James Conner will miss at least Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders, having suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 13 that head coach Mike Tomlin conceded “is probably a little more significant than we initially thought.” This means that the Steelers will be taking a running back by committee approach in the interim.
Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman thinks this is a good thing; rookie Jaylen Samuels doesn’t have the every-down skill set to take on a prominent role on his own, which means he will be splitting work with veteran Stevan Ridley for the time being.
Meanwhile, Shannon White wonders what the Steelers will do with cornerback Artie Burns. The 2016 Round 1 draft pick has found his way to the bench this season after proving to be a serious liability in coverage. White writes, “Artie needs a moment, and soon,” and she’s not wrong. Burns has one season left on his rookie deal and doesn’t seem on pace for Pittsburgh to exercise their fifth-year option to keep him on the roster.
While the Bengals are still technically in the playoff picture, with a 5-7 record, getting to the postseason is becoming an ever-increasing long shot. First, quarterback Andy Dalton was placed on injured reserve with a thumb injury, and now his backup, Jeff Driskel, won’t have the services of the team’s best receiver to help him close out the year.
A.J. Green was placed on injured reserve this week after tearing ligaments in his toe. The injury will require surgery, reports Cincy Jungle’s Jason Marcum. Green will be sidelined for up to four months but should be ready for 2019’s OTA sessions. The wideout had been playing through issues with the toe and missed three games this season because of the injury.
Marcum also reports that ESPN’s Josina Anderson spoke with a Bengals source that head coach Marvin Lewis won’t be returning to the post after the 2018 season wraps. Though this has been a common refrain out of the Bengals in recent years, it may prove true this time. Will that lead to Hue Jackson taking over the reins? Bovada, as of now, is leaning towards Lewis sticking around—but just slightly.
The Ravens are riding a three-game win streak ahead of Sunday’s game against the formidable Kansas City Chiefs, currently positioning themselves for a Wild Card playoff berth. Frank J. Platko dives into the past three weeks’ successes and breaks it down by the numbers, which includes an impressive 265 rushing yards for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Baltimore’s win streak coincides with Jackson taking over for an injured Joe Flacco. But Kyle J. Andrews—and Jackson himself—knows that Sunday’s meeting with the Chiefs will be the rookie passer’s biggest test of the season. It’s not Kansas City’s defense that’s the issue (it ranks 27th in points and 31st in yards allowed) but rather his ability to match the Chiefs’ league-leading scoring offense.