By Jeremy Hritz
The AFC North looks to be the Cincinnati Bengals domain as it has all season, the result of the consistency that they have demonstrated in winning. For as streaky as Andy Dalton has been at times, the Bengals continue to find ways to win football games and move closer to an AFC North title.
This past weekend, the Bengals defeated the Colts, 42-23, a game in which the steady version of Dalton was on display as he threw for 275 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, outdueling second year gunslinger Andrew Luck. The Bengals got production from both of their running backs, Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who rushed for a combined 147 yards and two touchdowns. Dalton and the output of his running backs resulted in 430 total yards of offense in a rout of the then third-seeded Colts. Defensively, however, the Bengals surrendered 326 passing yards and four touchdowns to Luck and the Colts, and while the majority of those yards and scores came in the second half when the game was getting out of reach, it could be reflective of a weakness in the Bengals secondary, especially considering the loss of starting cornerback Leon Hall.
At best, the Bengals can finish the season 12-4 if they can win out, but with games remaining in Pittsburgh and against Baltimore to end the season, 11-5 seems like the most realistic possibility. When it is all said and done, the Bengals should finish the season as the third seed in the AFC, setting up a potential matchup with the Ravens in Cincinnati.
Speaking of the Baltimore Ravens, they played in what was one of the most bizarre games of the 2013 NFL season, winning 29-26, with five touchdowns scored in the final 125 seconds of the game. The Ravens were anything but efficient in this game, as Joe Flacco threw three interceptions and the defense gave up big play after big play. Yet when they needed to make a crucial play, they did. Flacco was given an opportunity to make up for his sloppy performance and did so by connecting on a nine yard pass to Marlon Brown with 41 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. That score put the Ravens ahead for game and resulted in the Ravens third win in a row, boosting their record to 7-6 and pushing them closer to locking up the final Wild Card spot in the AFC.
The Ravens have a brutal final three games to close out the season, and their ticket to the playoffs is anything but paid for as they have yet to travel to Detroit for a Monday Night contest against the explosive Lions and then the Patriots at home, and finally the Bengals away to conclude 2013. If the Ravens win out, they are assuredly in, but with the quality of competition they will be facing, nothing is guaranteed.
The Cleveland Browns are headed once again toward another early draft pick as they blew a late-game lead against the Patriots and lost 27-26. New England enjoyed a 16-point fourth quarter to squeak out a one-point win that dropped the Browns to 4-9 on the season. Josh Gordon continued his tear, catching seven passes for 151 yards, including a long of 80 yards for a touchdown, yet in the end, the usually stout Browns defense was busted for 418 passing yards from Tom Brady. It looks like the Browns are headed to another last place finish in the AFC North.
|2013 AFC North Standings||Week 15 Games||Week 16 Games|
|1. Bengals: 9-4 overall, 2-2 division||Bengals @ Steelers, 8:30 PM Sun Night||Vikings @ Bengals, 1:00 PM|
|2. Ravens: 7-6 overall, 3-2 division||Ravens @ Lions, 8:40 PM, Mon Night||Patriots @ Ravens, 4:25 PM|
|3. Steelers: 5-8 overall, 2-2 division||Bengals @ Steelers, 8:30 PM Sun Night||Steelers @ Packers, 4:25 PM|
|4. Browns: 4-9 overall, 2-3 division||Browns @ Bears, 1:00 PM||Browns @ Jets, 1:00 PM|
|AFC North Statistical Leaders|
|Leading Passer (Yardage)||Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers – 5th in the NFL – 320/500, 3724 yards – 24 TDs, 10 Ints.|
|Leading Rusher (Yardage)||BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals – 18th in the NFL – 193 carries, 662 yards – 6 TDs|
|Leading receiver (Yardage)||Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns – 1st in the NFL – 71 catches, 1400 yards – 8 TDs|
|Sack Leader||Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens – Tied for 12th in the NFL – 9.5 sacks|
|Interception Leader||Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns – Tied for 5th in the NFL – 4 interceptions|
|Top Offense||Cincinnati Bengals – 10th in the NFL – 368.8 yards per game|
|Top Defense||Cleveland Browns – 7th in the NFL – 320.4 yards per game|
|2013 AFC North Remaining Schedules|
|Vs. Bengals||@ Lions||Vs. Bears||@ Steelers|
|@ Packers||Vs. Patriots||@ Jets||Vs. Vikings|
|Vs. Browns||@ Bengals||@ Steelers||Vs. Ravens|