The Pittsburgh Steelers can seal the deal with a victory over Cleveland (5-10), this weekend. A win gives them the AFC North title and a bye week, however, a loss and a Baltimore Ravens win would give the Ravens the title and drop the Steelers to a wildcard, with no bye.
Both the Steelers and Ravens won last week, the Steelers over the Carolina Panthers 27-7, and the Ravens over the Browns 20-10 to keep the race alive. The Ravens will finish the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals (3-12) who upset the San Diego Chargers 34-20 last week.
|OFFENSIVE ANCHOR—Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey celebrates a Steelers touchdown in their 27-3 win over the Carolina Panthers. (Photos by William McBride)
If the Steelers win out they will get the second seed behind the New England Patriots (13-2), who clinched home field throughout the playoffs with a 34-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills. Going into the final week the Kansas City Chiefs (10-5) clinched the AFC West title with a 34-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans, coupled with the Chargers (8-7) loss to the Bengals. The Indianapolis Colts (9-6) stayed one game ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars with a 31-26 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes while Ray Lewis and the rest of Baltimore’s tenacious defense backed up some pregame trash talk by bottling up Hillis and the Ravens remained tied with Pittsburgh with one game left.
Lewis had promised Hillis would not repeat his 144-yard performance against Baltimore in Week 3, and the big back didn’t come close, rushing for 35 yards on 12 carries. On his second attempt, Hillis was already going down when Reed came flying in and delivered a crushing blow. Hillis wasn’t the same, and neither were the Browns.
Colt McCoy threw three interceptions and the Browns did little to help embattled coach Eric Mangini, who fell to 10-21 in two seasons and is awaiting a postseason review by president Mike Holmgren. Mangini’s cause may be hurt by questionable clock management to end the first half and a failed onside kick to open the second.
Asked earlier in the week about Hillis’ surprising success against Baltimore on Sept. 26, Lewis scoffed, “A blind cat will find a meal every once in a while. When we get back to Cleveland, it’ll definitely be a different outcome. It won’t happen again.”
Cleveland couldn’t sustain any drives in the second half, and the Browns’ last real chance ended when Reed intercepted McCoy in the end zone with 4:35 left. McCoy went 15 of 29 for 149 yards, dropped to 2-5 as a starter and learned the Ravens back up their talk.
“I made a couple poor throws and it cost us,” McCoy said. “I just didn’t get it done. Turnovers killed us and it’s on me.”
Just as the Steelers easily defeated the Panthers, they should not have a hard time defeating the Browns, who showed against the Ravens they are not in the same class as the Steelers.