If the Baltimore Ravens needed any more motivation starting off Steelers week, this is it: Baltimore can eliminate the Pittsburgh Steelers from the AFC North race with a win Sunday.
By beating Pittsburgh in Baltimore, the Ravens would take a four-game lead on the Steelers with four games remaining. Because the Ravens would have earned a sweep of their division rival, there is no way the Steelers could win the division even if they won their final four games.
That's what happens when the Ravens are able to come back in the fourth quarter in San Diego and the Steelers are unable to do the same in Cleveland.
The Steelers have to worry more about holding off the Bengals than catching the Ravens these days. Cincinnati has won three straight to improve to 6-5, the same record as Pittsburgh. But the Steelers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker right now due to their 24-17 win at Cincinnati on Oct. 21. The two teams play at Pittsburgh on Dec. 23.
The Browns aren't headed to the playoffs, but they are 3-3 after an 0-5 start.
Here's what the local columnists are saying about their teams (in order of current standings):
RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston thinks the come-from-behind win in San Diego gives everyone reason to believe. "Mark down this date and game, because great moments like these don't happen often," Preston wrote. "Few teams gain 110 total yards in the first half and gain 333 in the second. Few teams are down by 10 points in the last eight minutes of the game, and then win in overtime. There just aren't many teams in the history of the NFL that convert on a fourth-and-29 from their own 37 on a short pass in the right flat to a running back who breaks three tackles and gets a first down. Moments like these take over a season."
STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier feels the NFL's top-ranked defense must collect more than good stats. "The Steelers haven't had two takeaways in a game since Oct. 7 against the Eagles," Collier wrote. "Haven't had three or more since a year ago Tuesday, when they had four at Kansas City. On Sunday, Cleveland had five in the second half. If you're shocked that the Browns won, 20-14, you're not alone. I'm shocked because anyone else would have won 200-14."
BENGALS: The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty believes the focus moves from Carson Palmer's return to the Bengals' rise. "We hesitate to elevate the Stripes to playoff status," Daugherty wrote. "Yet, given what’s ahead in the next three weeks – mediocre San Diego, mediocre Dallas, bad Philly – it’s not hard to see 9-5 heading into the home stretch against Pittsburgh and the Ravens. For now, things are going purely right. The Bengals third dominant effort in a row was the story Sunday, not Nine’s return."
BROWNS: The Akron Beacon-Journal's Marla Ridenour sees the Browns' win over the Steelers as a potential springboard for the team. "What happened on Sunday didn’t save coach Pat Shurmur’s job or put the Browns in the playoff hunt," Ridenour wrote. "It was the highlight of a 3-8 season, a sad reflection of how disappointing it has been. But the bruising battle seemed more than just another building block in the youngsters’ toy boxes. Now they have a black-and-blueprint of what it takes to beat the Steelers."