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AFC North: Browns win, Three Teams Fighting for Playoff Berths

Three teams in the AFC North are battling for what looks like just two playoff spots. Last season the division was able to land three teams in the postseason but that looks next to impossible for a second consecutive year. That is due in part to the terrible weekend the AFC North teams experienced in week 14, with the exception of the Cleveland Browns.

The three top teams in the division all lost and that means that Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will be fighting for two spots: the AFC North division title and the second of two wildcard spots. The Ravens are currently 9-4 and have a two game lead in the division with only three games left in the regular season. If they win the division title, that would leave Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to battle for the sixth playoff spot.

On Sunday, the chances that both the Steelers and Bengals would qualify for the postseason dropped tremendously. Both lost on Sunday and the Cinderella run by Indianapolis continued. At this point, the Steelers and Bengals are both 7-6 on the season and Indy at 9-4 holds a two game lead in the wildcard race over both.

The surprising Browns, the division’s hottest team is now 5-8 on the season. What is disappointing for them is they held leads in the fourth quarter over Dallas and Baltimore and if they could have held them, they too would be sitting at 7-6 with the Steelers and Bengals.

There is great concern in Baltimore about the direction the team is headed. Two consecutive losses and even though they still lead the division, the team is floundering at the wrong time of the season, just when the playoffs are around the corner.

On offense, the Ravens’ problems start on the offensive line. In their game against Washington, the Ravens were facing one of the worst pass rushing units in football nevertheless, they still were able to sack Joe Flacco on two occasions and pressure him consistently throughout the game.

Much of that blame is place on Jah Reid and Michael Oher who both had terrible games in pass protection. Oher has been getting beat on a regular basis by defensive pass rushers and that will cause nightmares over the long run for Flacco.

Speaking of Flacco, he too is starting to show signs of becoming more careless with the football. Even though he completed 16 of his 21 passes for three touchdowns, he was playing against a second rate defensive secondary and his turnover problems are creating problems for the team. He threw a pick in the red zone and fumbled twice, with one being recorded by Washington.

Baltimore’s lack of depth on defense is starting to show and with their injuries, it is even more evident. Terrell Suggs was not in the lineup on Sunday and Ray Lewis continues to be sidelined with his torn triceps. However, both may play in week 15, with both being game time decisions.

Dannell Ellerbe, who has played in Lewis’ place, was also out of Sunday’s game against Washington. Jameel McClain left in the second half due to an injured neck.

The injuries leave inexperience on the defense and playing a team like Washington does not affect the outcome as much as a playoff team like New England, Denver, Pittsburgh, Houston or Indianapolis.

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