Street Talk AFC NORTH WEEK 16

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AFC North


Won 2

Lost 1

Won 3

Lost 2
Baltimore Ravens     (11-3)
The Baltimore Ravens clinched the AFC North division title with their 27-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns coupled with the Bengals loss at Indianapolis. Back-up QB Kyle Boller stepped in for the injured starter QB Steve McNair and performed admirably leading the offense by throwing 2 TD passes; one of which went for 77 yards to WR Demetrius Williams breaking a 17 all tie in the 3rd quarter. Boller finished the day completing 13 of 21 pass attempts for 238 yards and 1 INT. RB Jamal Lewis racked up 109 yards on 22 carries including a 52 yard burst. Lewis continues his improved play down the stretch allowing the Ravens to use a much needed power running game heading into their last 2 contests versus Pittsburgh and Buffalo. FB Ovie Mughelli had another strong blocking performance and scored on a 9 yard pass play by demonstrating agility to stay in bounds while reaching the end zone.
The defense contributed another slightly less than dominant performance even though they yielded 17 points to the Browns. They were able to grab 2 INTs and sacked QB Derek Anderson 5 times and held the Browns offense to 0-11 on 3rd down conversions. "Making the playoffs, that’s step one," Coach Brian Billick said. "Every team, when they show up at training camp, you have the same goal. It first begins with making the playoffs, and we’re there."
Cincinnati Bengals     (8-6)
The Cincinnati Bengals were defeated by the Indianapolis Colts 34-16 on the national stage of Monday Night Football. The defeat drops the Bengals to 8-6 and into a 4-way battle with the Broncos, Jets, and Jaguars for the 2 wild card slots in the AFC playoff bracket with 2 games remaining. 4 other teams are still alive at 7-7.
The Bengals had no answer for the potent passing attack spearheaded by a brilliant performance by QB Peyton Manning. But it was the much maligned Colts defense that stepped up in the contest. Cincinnati gained 278 yards overall, much of it after the outcome was decided. Manning was helped greatly by Cincinnati’s inability to rush him or handle receivers coming off the line. More than half his completions came on short patterns where a Colt was wide open.
Cincinnati’s passing attack managed 17 yards in the first half and couldn’t protect QB Carson Palmer from the inspired pass rush of DE Dwight Freeney. The Bengals rushed for just 133 yards. "I’m not stunned — disappointed," Palmer said. "I felt we had an opportunity to win, a chance to extend our season. I played terrible, I missed too many balls." 
It appeared that the Bengals strategy and focus was to run the ball early, and that may have hindered them from establishing their bread and butter passing attack when they fell behind in the second half.
Cleveland Browns     (4-10)
The Cleveland Browns were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday and assured themselves of finishing the 2006 season with no victories against AFC North opponents by going 0 for 6. The Browns played the Ravens tough and were able to tie the game in the 3rd quarter at 17. QB Derek Anderson, a former Ravens draft pick, connected on 23 of 32 pass attempts for 233 yards with 2 TD passes, one each to WR Braylon Edwards and WR Joe Jurevicius and 2 INT. In only his 2nd NFL start he held up well against the NFL’s top defense.
"I saw the field real well and I had a good idea of what they were doing," Anderson said. "I made pretty good decisions for the most part. They just got me a couple of times." The Browns held onto the football for 11 minutes in the 3rd quarter but were never able to generate a running game netting 68 yards on just 16 rushes. "We gave them too much," Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said. "And when you give good football teams yards and plays, they usually take advantage of it. As the game went on, we didn’t do the things you need to do to win a football game against a good team like the Ravens. We threw an interception…gave up a 77-yard pass, missed tackles, missed a field goal. And you can’t do those things.”
Pittsburgh Steelers     (7-7)
It may be too late, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are finally playing like last season’s Super Bowl team. The Steelers went on the road and walloped the Carolina Panthers 37-3 on Sunday winning for the 5th time in their last 6 games. In their 3 games played in December so far, the Steelers have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 74-13 even though those opponents have an aggregate won loss record of only 13-29. RB Willie Parker rushed for 132 yards on 23 carries and picked up a TD, while QB Ben Roethlisberger completed 11 of 18 passes for 140 yards and a TD. The Steelers also blocked a punt and returned another for a TD.
"We’ve been there before. We’ve played on the road in December and we’ve played on the road in January," Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said. "This football team knows that mindset you have to have to win." "I never did anything in the state of North Carolina before, so you know how much that meant to me, coming back and playing the Panthers," Parker said. His TD produced big cheers, with nearly half the crowd rooting for the Steelers and thousands waving yellow Terrible Towels. The ratio grew when many Carolina fans left at halftime with Pittsburgh leading 17-3.
Baltimore   (11-3)   at Pittsburgh   (7-7)
Both teams come into the game playing solid football recently. With the AFC North title secured, Baltimore would like to win out in order to possibly obtain a bye from the first week of the playoffs and maintain momentum going into them. The Steelers will be motivated to rebound from the trouncing they received in Baltimore on 11/27; their only loss in their last 6 games, but there’s a reason, probably several that led to the dominant performance by the Ravens. The last time these teams met at Heinz Field was Halloween 2005 and the Ravens held the lead with under 4 minutes with Anthony Wright at QB succumbing to defeat on a late drive by the Steelers. The Ravens have never swept the season series, but no one had beaten Kansas City at home in December since 1996 until the Ravens did so on 12/10. If the Steelers can get RB Willie Parker 20 to 25 carries and 100+ yards, they will win. Pittsburgh clearly has the talent to defeat the Ravens and the oddsmakers think so as well as the Steelers are favored by 3 ½ points. The turnover situation will obviously tell much about the final outcome. Baltimore has been getting most of the bounces this year, and their defense keeps them in every contest. ITH sees the Ravens escaping with a win in a physical, hard-fought contest.
Baltimore   25     Pittsburgh   15
Cincinnati   (8-6)   at Denver   (8-6)
We now know that the Colts are a whole different kind of animal defensively when Manning plays great football. The Bengals could not get back into the game having to settle for field goals when the Colts were putting 7 on the board with consistency. The Bengals D didn’t play poorly; they were up against a determined and talented Colts offense that just refused to miss. The Broncos return home for their last 2 games as QB Jay Cutler showed improvement in the loss at San Diego and the win at Arizona. The Broncos are only 3-3 at home this year; the losses coming against playoff teams: Seahawks(?), Colts, and Chargers; their offense has dropped to #21 and their defense has fallen to #13. The long range weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 40’s or 50’s, so Palmer should be able to generate a passing attack against a troubled Broncos secondary. Denver has the look of the great pretender this year. ITH sees Cincy rebounding and taking a close one from the Broncos.
Cincinnati   28   Denver   26  
Tampa Bay   (3-11)   at Cleveland   (4-10)
The Jeckyl and Hyde men in orange and brown return home to play the more miserable visiting men in orange and pewter. The Browns have lost 4 of their last 5 while Tampa has lost 4 straight and are 0-7 on the road this year. If you want more comfort backing Cleveland, note that the AFC is an incredible 41-22 versus the NFC this year, a spread of 19 games. Look for Tampa to continue their trend and finish winless on the road and the Browns to win their 2nd straight at home.
Cleveland   23   Tampa Bay   11
ITH Record:     Last Week:              1-2
                          Season to date:      24-21

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Eric Buckner

About Eric Buckner

Eric Buckner is a native of Baltimore and has lived in the area his entire life. A graduate of Towson University , Eric has been a student of professional football since the day he wept in his grandfather's bedroom after the Baltimore Colts were upset by the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. A loyal fan of the Colts and subsequently the Ravens, Eric's passion for the NFL is unwavering as evidenced by his near flawless attendance record at Ravens' games. He's missed only one preseason game -- back in 2005. We'll cut him some slack since he was on his honeymoon. You won't find Eric slacking when it comes to covering the AFC North for   More from Eric Buckner


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