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Everything Clear as Mud in AFC North

December 20th, 2011 at 12:19 PM
By Chuck Chapman

Last night's Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the San Francisco 49ers did nothing to clear up the race in the AFC North. The Steelers had an opportunity to surge ahead of the Baltimore Ravens who had lost Sunday night in San Diego. Instead the two teams remain deadlocked with two games to go. Baltimore holds the tiebreaker by virtue of their season sweep of Pittsburgh, but the Steelers have the easier remaining schedule.

Baltimore turned in another lemon road performance, getting steamrolled by the San Diego Chargers 34-14. The Chargers went ahead 17-7 at the end of the first half and carried that momentum into the third quarter where they blew the game open. Ray Lewis returned for the Ravens, but didn't help as San Diego piled up 415 yards in offense. Philip Rivers carved up the secondary and Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert had their way on the ground. It really wasn't very close. The loss puts the Ravens a game behind New England in the race for home field advantage and keeps the Steelers in the hunt for the division crown.

 

Pittsburgh gambled Monday night and started the hobbling Ben Roethlisberger, hoping he could get them a win against the 49ers. Big Ben was clearly limited due to the high ankle sprain and the Steelers succumbed to the 49ers relentless pressure with San Francisco winning going away 20-3. Pittsburgh now has St. Louis at home and a final game at Cleveland, both of them very winnable even if Roethlisberger sits. That will be a big decision for Mike Tomlin as it's looking increasingly like the Steelers will have to play the first weekend of the playoffs and will need a healthy Big Ben.

The Cleveland Browns are clearly out of the playoffs, but their overtime loss in Arizona muddied up the quarterback picture there. Seneca Wallace started for Colt McCoy, out because of the concussion suffered at the hands of James Harrison. Wallace performed well, taking the Browns' struggling offense on three scoring drives. Alas, a Wallace fumble inside the red zone in the fourth quarter allowed the Cardinals to tie the game and send it into overtime where they gained the victory. 

With the Browns looking at a top five draft pick, Cleveland fans have now begun to wonder whether or not the team should select one of the quarterbacks that will be coming out this year. McCoy has shown promise, but as he was only a sixth round pick, they don't have a ton invested in him. They also need a playmaker at wide receiver and a stable running back.

In addition to the Steelers hosting the Rams, Cleveland travels to Baltimore. It's looking more and more like the final week of the season, with Pittsburgh at Cleveland and Baltimore at Cincinnati will determine the final outcome of the AFC North.

Tags: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Football, NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers

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