Playoff Picture, AFC North Week 15
AFC North Standings, remaining schedule
Bengals: 8-4-1 (2-2), @ CLE, vs. DEN, @ PIT
Steelers: 8-5 (3-2), @ATL, vs. KC, vs. CIN
Ravens: 8-5 (2-3), vs. JAX, @ HOU, vs. CLE
Browns: 7-6 (2-2), vs. CIN, @ CAR, vs. BAL
Despite the Ravens win last week, they drop to third in the North by way of the division record tiebreaker with the Steelers. Trying to decipher all of the possibilities for the way the playoff teams will shake out is an exercise in futility. With three games to go, teams need to just win. As for the Ravens, here’s the short version of their road to a division title.
If the Ravens win out, they need the Bengals and Steelers both to lose one more game.
If the Bengals win out, they win the division. If the Steelers win out, they win the division by a half game over the Bengals. If the Browns win out, they need the Bengals to lose a second game of the final three. They then need the Steelers to lose twice, and the Ravens to lose a second game of the final three.
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As for the wild card, the Ravens are the seventh seed. The first team on the outside looking in, by way of being on the wrong side of the head to head tiebreak with the San Diego Chargers, and the division tiebreaker with the Steelers. Kansas City, Buffalo, and of course Miami, all did their part in losing last week to fall a game behind the three front runners. With the Chargers losing to the Patriots, and now hosting the Broncos, and the Ravens hosting the Jaguars, there is no better odds the Ravens could get to move ahead of San Diego this week.
For the teams in the hunt at 7-6, Buffalo hosts Green Bay likely losing their seventh game eliminating them. Miami travels to New England and while this is a division game, the Pats would be favored to hand Miami their seventh loss eliminating them. The Texans have improved to 7-6, but will play the Colts in a must win game. The odds are on the Texans losing their seventh game. Kansas City will host Oakland with the best chance of the bunch to improve their record to 8-6. Cleveland will host the Bengals which we’ll breakdown here, in our preview of the AFC North for week 15.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns: Pick em’, Sun 1:00
Is it finally Manziel time in Cleveland? After losing three of their last four (and the one win was no thanks to Brian Hoyers 3 INTs) The Browns have announced it will be Johnny Football’s show on Sunday. We’ll see what he brings to the table with the Browns having their backs to the wall in a must win game in order to keep pace in the playoff hunt. The Bengals were embarrassed by the Browns, 24-3 a month ago on a Thursday night.
One of the more interesting stats of note is that the Bengals are -8 in point differential on the season. They give up more than they score, and in this matchup, the Browns have the better total offense and total defense.
Andy Dalton has had an up and down season resulting in very average on the whole. Since the loss to the Browns five games ago where he registered a QBR of 4.0, he rebounded with a 97.8 against the Saints, 54.2 against Houston, 32.0 against TB, and back up to 93.8 in the losing effort last week to Pittsburgh. Is he due to trend back downwards this week?
Dalton leans on A.J. Green to make big plays, but he’ll be blanketed by Joe Haden or Buster Skrine, both having good years, and bracketed over the top by the leagues leader in INTs, Tashuan Gipson.
The sense I’m getting out of Cleveland is that a change at QB was necessary, and really all that’s needed. They feel the rest of the offense does their job. The receivers get open, the pass blocking is excellent, Hoyer just couldn’t hit open guys. If Manziel is just good, that might be good enough He’s got “it” that you can’t really define, and that “it” could get it done.
Prediction: Browns 20, Bengals 17
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Atlanta Falcons: PIT -3, Sun. 1:00
Both the Steelers and Falcons have alternated wins and losses in the last four weeks. Atlanta still leads the NFC South at 5-8, so they are not rolling over for anyone. After most folks called it night, Atlanta made a game of it with Green Bay on Monday after trailing 31-7 at the half. Julio Jones added onto his league leading yardage total with 259 more yards in the game, but left late in the game with a hip injury.
Julio Jones status could be the deciding factor on who emerges in the one. Jones is a huge weapon. He leads the league with 3.61 Yards per route in the last five weeks. Just as important is Antonio Brown on the other side of the ball. He doesn’t drop any balls, and is in the midst of his second great season, proving last year wasn’t a fluke. If he’s not already, he’s the next great receiver in this league.
Factor in the monster the Steelers have found in Le’Veon Bell, and this offense looks tough to beat. He’s just the second player ever (Walter Payton) to reach 200 scrimmage yards in three straight games. Kroy Biermann, Atlanta’s best defender in their front seven will have his hands full.
The Georgia Dome used to be a tough place for opponents to go into and win, but visiting teams are 3-3 on the season. In Baltimore, we have seen the Falcons first hand this year. We can attest that their defense is not good, and if Julio Jones is not 100%, it doesn’t look good for them.
Prediction: Steelers 34, Falcons 23
Baltimore Ravens vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: BAL -14, Sun. 1:00
In their last six games, the Jaguars have only covered the spread once, and that was in their one point win against the Giants two weeks ago when they were a three point underdog. 14 points is the largest spread since they were a 13 point dog at the Colts three weeks ago.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Jacksonville struggles to score with just 15.3 PPG. If we’re going to say something nice, CB Demetrius McCray has been pretty good of late in coverage allowing one catch for every 16.4 times that he is primarily in coverage (Richard Sherman allows one for every 25.5). That’s about where it ends. They don’t stop the run, they aren’t great against the pass.
On offense, Blake Bortles is running for his life as the Jags have allowed a league worst 54 sacks on the year. 4.15 sacks per game. Elvis Dumervil who now has 16 on the year is foaming at the mouth to pick up a few more before seasons end, where he has an outside shot at the single season record of 22.5 is he gets two per game over the final three, plus one somewhere. When Bortles is under duress, he is only accurate on 52.6% of his passes. Clearly the key is to pressure him.
For more on the Ravens, check back often for excellent, in-depth coverage on the home team. Let’s not kid ourselves. This should be no contest.
Prediction: Ravens 38, Jaguars 10
Other games of note:
Dolphins @ Patriots: NE -7, Sun. 1:00
Chiefs vs. Raiders: KC -10.5, Sun. 1:00
Texans @ Colts: IND -7, Sun. 1:00
Bills vs. Packers: GB -6, Sun. 1:00
Chargers vs. Broncos: DEN -4, Sun 4:00
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]