AFC North Notebook: Ravens do Bengals a big favor
The Cincinnati Bengals clinched their second AFC North title in three years in unexpected fashion this weekend, thanks to the Baltimore’s upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Don’t expect the Bengals to repay the favor this Sunday when they host Baltimore with a chance to claim a first-round bye.
The Bengals (11-4) would love nothing more than to skip the opening round of the postseason, having lost there in four straight seasons. The extra week off would also give the broken right thumb of starting quarterback Andy Dalton more time to heal. But after squandering an opportunity to clinch that bye with Monday night’s loss in Denver, the Bengals find themselves behind the 8-ball as the Broncos would now have to lose at home next week to San Diego for Cincinnati to have any chance.
Not having AJ McCarron under center would severely complicate the Bengals’ chances of holding up their end of the bargain. The second-string quarterback injured his left wrist on the final play Monday night, but he appears to have escaped major injury, according to FOX Sports 1 NFL Insider Mike Garafolo. If McCarron is unable to play, the Bengals would have to turn to Keith Wenning, whose next NFL snap will be his first.
Steelers go bow, wow, wow
The Steelers have built a reputation as one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL, but it appears Baltimore has them figured out. The Ravens held Pittsburgh to just 303 total yards off offense while limiting receiver Antonio Brown to just 61 yards on seven receptions. Steelers players say they didn’t underestimate the Ravens but there aren’t many explanations for losing to a team ravaged by injuries and on its fourth quarterback in Ryan Mallett.
Maybe a pregame speech from Snoop Dogg will fire up the Steelers for this week’s visit to Cleveland.
Pittsburgh (9-6) no longer controls its own destiny and needs a win plus a Jets loss just to squeak into the postseason as the sixth seed. Considering that many experts considered the Steelers as one of the most dangerous threats in the playoffs, the Ravens may have done all of the postseason contenders a favor. Some conspiracy theorists even believe that Bill Belichick threw the coin toss against the Jets last Sunday in order to damage the Steelers’ playoff hopes.
If the Steelers had avoided the upset, they would be playing for a chance at their second straight division title this Sunday rather than their playoff lives.
Dropping the Mallett
Ryan Mallett may have earned himself a job for next season already. The newest Ravens quarterback came out of nowhere to lead Sunday’s stunning upset of the Steelers. Mallett is the only quarterback on the roster besides Flacco that has a contract for next season, and it’s highly unlikely Matt Schaub will be back considering his performances this year.
Jimmy Smith is one interception lighter after teammate Courtey Upshaw’s offsides penalty negated his 101-yard touchdown return. Smith will be at least one steak heavier since Upshaw promised to repay his miscue with a dinner date.
Baltimore will look to play spoiler again this Sunday, as a win in Cincinnati would prevent the Bengals from earning a first-round bye.
What is Manziel thinking?
Johnny Manziel just can’t keep videos of himself drinking off social media these days. Just a few weeks after another partying incident cost him his starting job, Manziel was shown yucking it up again with what is believed to be another alcoholic beverage. This is obviously not a good look for someone hoping to be the long-term answer in Cleveland, not to mention someone who was in rehab less than a year ago.
Manziel might not be the only one wearing out his welcome in Cleveland. Speculation is already swirling that owner Jimmy Haslam’s itchy trigger may come into play again once the season is over. One report says that general manager Ray Farmer is already good as gone, while another says no decision has been made. Former Packers executive and Hall of Famer Ron Wolf may be the guy called upon to clean up the mess when all is said and done.
Whoever is in charge will have another high draft pick to begin the turnaround. Currently slotted in the second spot behind Tennessee, a loss this week to the Steelers combined with a Titans win over the Colts will give the Browns the No. 1 overall pick next season.