By Jeremy Hritz
So much for second place.
While there was a barrel full of hope heading into last week’s contest against the Baltimore Ravens that the Pittsburgh Steelers could take a step towards locking up a Wild Card, that barrel was disappointingly tipped over and spilled out on the sidelines of M&T Bank Stadium.
With only four games left to play in the 2013 season, the Steelers still have a slight pulse in the AFC Wild Card Playoff push, but it is going to require a four-game win streak, plus help, that will see them beating the likes of the Miami Dolphins this weekend, and then the Bengals, Packers, and Browns consecutively.
On the bright side, three of these last four games are at home. Pessimistically, however, the Steelers have not won more than three games in a row in 2013, and with a struggling secondary susceptible to the big pass play combined with a rash of injuries to the offensive line, knocking out four straight may be too much of a difficult task for this year’s team to overcome.
Yet, while there is still a chance, faith must be kept, but the pursuit must begin with a victory this weekend against Miami.
The Bengals picked up their eighth win of the season this past weekend in San Diego, 17-10 and continued their drive towards a division championship. With every game that the Bengals win, the closer and closer they get to locking up a home playoff game, and with four weeks to play, it seems safe to assume that outside of a significant collapse, they will finish the season as the AFC North victors.
While Andy Dalton wasn’t awful in the game, he was barely efficient and only turned the ball over once. The Bengals got decent production from their running game as BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the AFC North leading rusher, ran for 92 yards and one touchdown, and Giovani Bernard chipped in 57 yards.
In a game that was tied 7-7 at halftime, the Bengals were able to do just enough in the second half, most importantly score on a 21-yard pass from Dalton to A.J. Green to propel the Bengals to victory. Combine the sufficient performance on offense with three Chargers turnovers and the Bengals had a simple, yet perfect recipe for success.
Today, the Bengals will stay at home against the Colts for a 1:00 PM game, a contest that if they win could lock them into the number three seed in the AFC that would prove to be the difference between playing the Chiefs or the Ravens in the first round. While seeding won’t ultimately be determined for another few weeks, this game will definitely have a bearing on the final outcome.
The Brownies, one week after playing somewhat respectably against the Steelers, blew one to the Jaguars, 32-28, a team considered to be the worst in the league, right next to the Texans. Three turnovers, including two from Brandon Weedon, whose time in Cleveland is probably done after this year, hampered any chance for the Browns to win the game, despite another heroic effort from Josh Gordon who caught ten passes for 261 yards, two touchdowns, including one for 95 yards. With Gordon’s monster back-to-back performances, he has propelled himself to the second leading receiver in the league.
The Browns are essentially out of the playoff race, though still mathematically alive, and they will have a rough go of it again this Sunday in Foxboro when they take on the Patriots.
Lastly, the Ravens look to make it three in a row this weekend against the Vikings at home, and unless Adrian Peterson explodes, the Ravens should stay one game ahead of the Steelers.
With only four games to go, things are far from decided in the North, but unless the Steelers heat up and the Ravens cool off, it will be another winter of watching the playoffs devoid of black and gold.
|2013 AFC North Standings||Week 14 Games||Week 15 Games|
|1. Bengals: 8-4 overall, 2-2 division||Colts @ Bengals, 1:00 PM||Bengals @ Steelers, 8:30 PM Sun Night|
|2. Ravens: 6-6 overall, 3-2 division||Vikings @ Ravens, 1:00 PM||Ravens @ Lions, 8:40 PM, Mon Night|
|3. Steelers: 5-7 overall, 2-2 division||Dolphins @ Steelers, 1:00 PM||Bengals @ Steelers, 8:30 PM Sun Night|
|4. Browns: 4-8 overall, 2-3 division||Browns @ Patriots, 1:00 PM||Browns @ Bears, 1:00 PM|
|AFC North Statistical Leaders|
|Leading Passer (Yardage)||Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers – 6th in the NFL – 297/461, 3375 yards – 21 TDs, 10 Ints.|
|Leading Rusher (Yardage)||BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals – 19th in the NFL – 176 carries, 614 yards – 4 TDs|
|Leading receiver (Yardage)||Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns – 2nd in the NFL – 64 catches, 1249 yards – 7 TDs|
|Sack Leader||Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens – Tied for 8th ithe NFL – 9.5 sacks|
|Interception Leader||Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns – Tied for 4th in the NFL – 4 interceptions|
|Top Offense||Cincinnati Bengals – 12th in the NFL – 363.7 yards per game|
|Top Defense||Cleveland Browns – 4th in the NFL – 306.8 yards per game|
|2013 AFC North Remaining Schedules|
|Vs. Dolphins||Vs. Vikings||@ Patriots||Vs. Colts|
|Vs. Bengals||@ Lions||Vs. Bears||@ Steelers|
|@ Packers||Vs. Patriots||@ Jets||Vs. Vikings|
|Vs. Browns||@ Bengals||@ Steelers||Vs. Ravens|