Kevin Gorman’s Who runs the North?: Steelers, Browns battle for 2nd place, playoff spot
As Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens run away with the AFC North, the interesting development is the battle for second place and whether that’s worthy of a wild-card berth.
The Cleveland Browns closed the gap on the Pittsburgh Steelers with their victory Thursday night, but it came at a cost.
Not only did both teams give the NFL a black eye with their brawl, but the Browns could be without their best player, Myles Garrett, for the rest of the season and the Steelers might have to play three games without All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey.
The remainder of the Browns’ schedule, however, could allow them to win five of their final six games. They play the Miami Dolphins (2-8), the Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1), the Ravens (8-2) – who they beat by 15 earlier this season – and two games against the Cincinnati Bengals (0-10).
The Steelers, meantime, look like the walking wounded. They could be without running back James Conner and wide receivers Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, leaving them with former backups and practice-squad players in key roles.
The Steelers welcome a game against the winless Bengals, who matched the worst start in franchise history with their 0-10 start. But they play the Browns again next week, followed by the Cardinals, Buffalo Bills (7-3), N.Y. Jets (3-7) and Ravens, so finding four wins in the final six weeks will be a challenge.
And they learned the hard way last season that nine wins doesn’t guarantee a spot in the playoffs.
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) November 17, 2019
Lamar Jackson now has as many as or more games of 4 TDs and no INTs this season (two) than these Hall of Fame QBs had in their entire careers:
Joe Montana (two)
Bart Starr (one)
Troy Aikman (one)
Jim Kelly (one)
Ken Stabler (one) https://t.co/0t9M5rIgvO
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) November 18, 2019
Result: Beat the Houston Texans, 41-7.
Highlights: In a matchup of two of the league’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson outdueled Deshaun Watson. Jackson threw four touchdown passes and ran for 68 yards, while the Ravens defense pressured Watson into 18 of 29 passing for 168 yards with six sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.
SACK by @man_dammn ‼️
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 17, 2019
Lowlights: After forcing a fumble on the opening drive, Justin Tucker missed a 43-yard field goal. It was his first miss in 23 attempts, dating to last season.
Next: The Ravens (8-2) visit the Los Angeles Rams (6-4) on Sunday night.
The Cincinnati Bengals are currently 0-10. And this Bengals fan promised himself he won't come down from the top of his roof, until the Bengals win a football game. He's been living up for over a month. His feet never touched the ground in months. pic.twitter.com/iNes4JqXOu
— Joshua Guss (@joshua504man) November 19, 2019
The #Bengals are now 0-10 in 2019, tying the worst start in franchise history. This also makes 12 straight losses. The Bengals have won 1 game in 365 days. Cincinnati, this is rock bottom…
— Brandon Saho (@BrandonSaho) November 18, 2019
Result: Lost to the Oakland Raiders, 17-10.
Highlights: Joe Mixon broke a 30-yard run to start a 12-play, 85-yard scoring drive capped by his 3-yard touchdown run to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead. It was the first rushing touchdown of the season by anyone other than Andy Dalton. Mixon finished with 15 carries for 86 yards.
DE Maxx Crosby (@CrosbyMaxx) with his 4th sack of game. Bengals align RB Bernard over Crosby to chip him. Crosby shows his athletic ability and movement skills by looping through an open A gap then his length to bring down QB.#Raiders #Raidernation pic.twitter.com/7bdKCkDILf
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) November 20, 2019
Lowlights: The Bengals allowed five sacks for minus-42 yards, as Ryan Finley completed only 13 of 31 passes for 73 yards. And Tyler Boyd, who has 58 catches for 598 yards, was only targeted three times and finished with one catch for 0 yards.
Next: The Bengals (0-10) play host to the Steelers (5-5) on Sunday.
Full Baker Mayfield postgame. Good, honest take on the fly. Didn’t pull any punches on Myles Garrett. pic.twitter.com/DSi3NqGaLQ
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 15, 2019
Result: Beat the Steelers, 21-7.
Highlights: Baker Mayfield looked like a franchise quarterback. He extended plays, threw two touchdown passes and ran for another — and didn’t commit any turnovers — as the Browns won their second consecutive game after losing four straight.
It was Bakertime in Cleveland on #TNF! @Browns @bakermayfield was awesome extending plays—All. Game. Long. Good reads, throwing with anticipation, and his deep ball accuracy from last season showed up on the opening drive! #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/QPnat1rniB
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 15, 2019
Lowlights: The melee in the final seconds marred the victory for the Browns. It cost them Garrett, who was suspended indefinitely pending appeal, and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi for one game. The Browns also lost safety Morgan Burnett to an Achilles injury.
Next: The Browns (4-6) play host to the Miami Dolphins (2-8) on Sunday.
Turning the page in Pittsburgh, where the banged-up #Steelers await word on Maurkice Pouncey's appeal of his three-game suspension while preparing to visit the winless #Bengals. @nflnetwork @NFLTotalAccess pic.twitter.com/oPumm4hMO6
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 19, 2019
Result: Lost to the Cleveland Browns, 21-7.
Highlights: There weren’t many for the Steelers, except for when they scored on a five-play, 85-yard drive capped by Mason Rudolph’s 3-yard touchdown throw to Jaylen Samuels. But even that was helped by three Browns penalties, including one on third-and-long.
Another takeaway for the @Browns defense!
— NFL (@NFL) November 15, 2019
Lowlights: Not only did Rudolph throw four interceptions, but he lost his top playmakers to injury and one of his protectors to suspension. The Steelers lost Conner (shoulder) and Johnson and Smith-Schuster (concussion). and Pouncey was suspended three games for punching and kicking Garrett. The offense is in shambles.
Next: The Steelers (5-5) visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .