AFC NORTH ROUNDUP: Two are in, which will survive the Wild Card round?

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Baltimore Ravens

"In my 14 years, I’ve never had a pretty road to the playoffs," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "It’s always been a grind, but there’s no better thing than having that grind and getting to advance. I like where we’re positioned right now, and I like all the adversity we’ve gone through. I just like seeing this team fight."

With one vicious stiff-arm, Willis McGahee pushed aside the last obstacle standing between the Baltimore Ravens and another playoff bid on his way to a career-best day. McGahee ran for a career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns, pushing down Hiram Eugene on a 77-yarder, and the Ravens clinched an AFC wild-card berth by beating the Oakland Raiders 21-13 on Sunday. The Ravens went into the regular season finale knowing a win would put them in the playoffs and a loss would send them home for an early winter. Just like last season when they beat Jacksonville in the final game to make the postseason, the Ravens came through against the Raiders.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe intercepted a pass from JaMarcus Russell late in the third quarter to set up McGahee’s third touchdown that made it 21-13. Russell started the 2nd half, replacing an injured Charlie Frye. Ellerbe then recovered a fumble by Russell at the Ravens 23 with 9:42 to go to end a possible scoring threat by Oakland.

After a three-and-out for the Raiders, McGahee iced the game with a 36-yard run on third-and-4 from his 15 to cap his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.

The Ravens struck first when McGahee scored on a 2-yard run to cap Baltimore’s second drive. It was McGahee’s touchdown in the second quarter that was truly highlight-reel material. He took a handoff at the 23 and burst through the line. With Eugene in position to make a tackle near midfield, McGahee stiff-armed him to the ground and took it in the rest of the way for a 14-3 lead. Charlie Frye responded by leading the Raiders on a 79-yard drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Zach Miller in the final minute of the half. Billy Cundiff missed a 37-yard field goal attempt wide right on the final play of the half, keeping Baltimore’s lead at 14-10.

Cincinnati Bengals

"It was not the outcome we wanted," Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said. "The Jets outplayed us in all three phases. We get a chance to regroup and get going again next Saturday afternoon."

Rex Ryan’s top-ranked defense shut down Cincinnati and rookie Mark Sanchez efficiently led a clock-eating offense as the New York Jets clinched their first playoff berth in three seasons with a 37-0 victory Sunday night at the frigid Meadowlands. The Jets set up a rematch against the AFC North champion Bengals in the first round Saturday at Cincinnati. Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco said his team would be ready. "We’ll be fine," he said. "We’ll study a lot of things we can fix, especially offensively. Next week will be a lot more serious."

The Bengals opened with most of their starters – running back Cedric Benson was the only healthy starter to not play – but pulled Carson Palmer early in the third quarter. Palmer was ineffective when he was in, going 1 for 11 for no – yes, zero – yards before J.T. O’Sullivan replaced him. The Jets ran 24 plays and the Bengals had three, and Cincinnati was out-gained 138 yards to 1 in the first quarter. New York had 250 yards at halftime, including 190 on the ground, to 7 for Cincinnati. Cincinnati fell to 0-11 at Giants Stadium, including 0-8 against the Jets.

The much-anticipated showdown between Darrelle Revis and Ochocinco ended up decidedly in the Jets cornerback’s favor. Ochocinco left the game with an injured left knee without any catches, and was scheduled to have an MRI exam Monday.
"Whether I had one leg or not, Darrelle did a great job," Ochocinco said. Cincinnati was 1 for 11 on third down, and finished with just 72 net yards on offense. The last time Cincinnati was shut out was in 2001 against Baltimore – when Lewis was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator and Ryan was part of his staff.

Cleveland Browns

"I was never looking at this as a one-year situation," Browns Coach Eric Mangini said. "I knew there were short-term sacrifices that had to be made. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s not something that happens in six games or even 16. You build and that takes hard work and effort and time.”

Jerome Harrison rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown, and Josh Cribbs ran for a TD as the Browns beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-17 on Sunday, giving Cleveland its first four-game winning streak since 1994 to push Eric Mangini into an uncertain off-season with momentum to fight for his job. While the Browns ended their season on a high, they extinguished Jacksonville’s razor-thin AFC playoff hopes. Playing on a slippery, snow-covered field, the Florida visitors were mostly out of their element and lost their fourth in a row.

Cleveland’s four-game winning streak — the club’s longest since its expansion rebirth — was book-ended with victories over Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, two quality teams that add credence to the Browns’ late-season surge under Mangini.

Harrison’s emergence was one of many surprises for the Browns down the stretch. He made the most of his opportunity after Jamal Lewis sustained a season-ending injury and capped his three-week breakout by rushing for 561 yards on 106 carries. His 6-yard TD run on fourth-and-1 with 4:03 left in the third quarter put the Browns on top 20-3. The Jaguars pulled within 20-10 on David Garrard’s 6-yard TD pass to tight end Zach Miller with 10:30 left. But Browns quarterback Derek Anderson, who only attempted 11 passes, took the Browns on a 14-play drive that devoured more than eight minutes. Phil Dawson capped it with a 33-yard field goal to make it 23-10. Garrard found Miller again on a 15-yard TD on the final play. Following Anderson’s interception on a ball knocked down by the wind, the Browns turned to their running game – they finished with 214 yards rushing – to take a 10-3 lead in the second on Cribbs’ 14-yard TD.

Pittsburgh Steelers

"There are a lot of teams that are capable of going 6-10 facing the circumstances this group was faced with," Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said. "They knuckled down, they hung together. They did the best of their ability to fix it. We won the last three ball games and gave ourselves a chance."

The Pittsburgh Steelers sent two Miami quarterbacks to the sideline, including Pat White with a scary head injury, and beat the Dolphins 30-24 Sunday. But Pittsburgh was eliminated when Baltimore clinched an AFC wild-card berth by winning at Oakland, 21-13.
"I’d rather we go out with a win than a loss," said Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three touchdown passes. Pittsburgh was undone by losses to the woeful Chiefs, Raiders and Browns in a span of 19 days during a late-season five-game losing streak. Plenty of Steelers fans stayed with their team until the end. Many in the stadium wore black and gold, and the visiting team provided lots to cheer about.

LaMarr Woodley led the defensive charge with two sacks, two tackles for a loss and three quarterback hurries. Rashard Mendenhall ran for 94 yards and Willie Parker added 91. With 6 minutes left and the score 27-24, Joey Porter recovered Roethlisberger’s fumble on a sack at the Steelers 13 to give Miami a chance to take the lead. But Tyler Thigpen was intercepted by Ryan Clark at the 2. Roethlisberger appeared to favor his throwing arm during the next possession, but he led Pittsburgh on a 14-play, 83-yard drive. It ended with Jeff Reed’s third field goal for a 30-24 lead with 40 seconds left. Taylor intercepted Thigpen on Miami’s next play to seal the outcome.
 

The Steelers never had to turn to their backup quarterback, but Roethlisberger said he needed to see a doctor after the game. He declined to discuss his injury. Roethlisberger finished with 26 touchdown passes by throwing for scores covering 5 yards to Santonio Holmes, 54 yards to Mike Wallace and 3 yards to Heath Miller. Roethlisberger passed for 220 yards and ended the season at 4,328. The Steelers added 202 yards rushing, held Ricky Williams to 31 and came up with three interceptions.

"We finished the season the way we were supposed to," Holmes said.

 

Week #17 Scores

Baltimore               21         Oakland          13

New York Jets     37         Cincinnati         0

Cleveland               23         Jacksonville    17

Pittsburgh              30        Miami              24


 

Wild Card Match-ups and ITH Predictions 

 
Baltimore (9-7) at New England (10-6)

These 2 teams met on October 4th at Gillette Stadium with the Patriots getting the win by a final margin of 27-21. It was a competitive game punctuated by big plays for each team and some critical penalties that hurt the Ravens chances to win. Ravens fans will remember the dropped pass by Mark Clayton inside the Patriot 10 yard line with a minute left on the clock on what could have been the game-winning drive. The Patriots will be without receiver Wes Welker, but Tom Brady will still look to exploit the Ravens secondary. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens will look to take advantage of a Patriot defense that ranks 20th in the league against the run that has yielded 4.4 yards per rush.

Lost in the big plays and controversial penalties of the regular season match-up is the fact that the Patriots were able to control the game by running the football. Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, and Lawrence Maroney combined for 25 rushes and 74 yards. While the yardage amount is not impressive, the Patriots controlled the game by converting third downs and by running 25 times resulting in 35 minutes of possession and thus limited the Ravens to 17 rush attempts and 47 passes on only 25 minutes of possession. Playing from behind, the Ravens were not able to control the game with their running attack.  

ITH believes the key to this game is how many rushes the Patriots get. If the Ravens can take away the run and limit the Patriots to 20 rush attempts or less, it will greatly help their chances.

Baltimore   20     New England   17     OVERTIME


 

Cincinnati (10-6) vs. New York Jets (9-7)
 

Whether by intention or not, the Cincinnati Bengals failed to show up at the Meadowlands and were soundly thrashed by the Jets on Sunday night. Regardless, the Bengals have slowed down considerably since their bye week. They are 5-4 since the bye and have failed to score 20 or more points in 7 of their last 9 games. That won’t get it done in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Jets are the hot team having won 5 of their last 6 and have held opponents to an average of 7.8 points in those 6 games. While ITH expects the Bengals to provide a decent effort at home, it won’t be enough to slow down the Jets.

New York Jets   24     Cincinnati   14

Record Week #17 (and YTD): 3 – 1 (30 – 16)

 

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