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The Dust Has Settled in the AFC North

Ben Roethlisberger

How much Ben Roethlisberger can we expect to see in a meaningless game in Pittsburgh today?

What was shaping up to be a potentially thrilling end to the NFL season for three of the four AFC North Division teams has fizzled out quicker than a lame New Year’s Eve party. The Baltimore Ravens are your AFC North champions and appear to be locked into the 4th seed. The Cincinnati Bengals have secured one of the two wild-card spots and will more than likely be the sixth seed. The Pittsburgh Steelers will wrap up a very disappointing season today at home as they miss the playoffs for the second time in four years.

The Standings: Baltimore 10-5, Cincinnati 9-6, Pittsburgh 7-8, Cleveland 5-10

John Harbaugh

How long will the starters play for Coach Harbaugh today in Cincinnati?

Baltimore (+3) at Cincinnati – I would make the argument that just because both teams are in the playoffs that this game isn’t just to be tossed aside. Baltimore righted themselves a bit last week with a big win over the New York Giants while Cincinnati stayed hot with a playoff-clinching win in Pittsburgh.

For the Ravens, they know there is no chance of a bye-week so the question is who and how much will they rest this week? This of course is what makes wagering on Week 17 games with no ramifications so difficult. I would argue that they need a strong performance on the road and if I’m John Harbaugh, I’m playing my main guys at least through the first half.

If I’m the Bengals, I already know I’m going on the road and if I have any chance of resting guys I probably need to take it. I would expect to see Andy Dalton and some other starters see some pine time in the second half for sure. There is an interesting variable at play here though that could see the two teams play each other next week in Baltimore but that would require a Ravens’ win and a Pats’ loss to Miami.

Cincinnati has been really good against the run the last four weeks giving up less than 60 yards a game while Baltimore got it going on the ground against the G-Men to the tune of over 200 yards rushing. Andy Dalton was not very good last week in Pittsburgh despite getting the win but now he faces a weak Ravens’ secondary and still no Ray Lewis. Take the Bengals at home.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-10) – Heinz Field will be filled with disappointment this week and probably less Terrible Towels as well. The Steelers’ fan base is as disgusted with this team as any going back to the last days of Chuck Noll. The offense never quite got untracked and while the defense will probably finish #1 in the league, they had their issues at times.

The Browns found themselves wondering if they had a lame duck coaching staff early in the season when the team was sold in August. Cleveland made a nice run late in the season with wins over the Steelers, Chargers and Raiders but they eventually fell out of the playoff race for good a few weeks back.

You’ll need a scorecard to be able to recognize a lot of the guys on the field today for both teams but especially the Browns who’ll start Thad Lewis at quarterback in place of the injured Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy. No Trent Richardson in the backfield either so the Steelers’ D will not have to contend with him. Pittsburgh will be without Mike Wallace, Mike Adams, and Ike Taylor and I would expect to see Ben Roethlisberger find his way to the bench at some point in a meaningless game.

With so many guys out, this is a hard game to figure especially at that big number of -10. Both teams will play hard but I just can’t see the Steelers covering that number. I like them to win, but take Cleveland with the number.

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