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Wake-up: Three teams battle over two spots

12/10/2012

Any hopes of the AFC North getting three teams in the playoffs for a second straight season likely ended on Black Sunday. Or should we call it Brown Sunday?

Losses by the top three teams in the division probably means the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are fighting over two spots: the division title and the final wild-card spot. If the Ravens (9-4), who hold a two-game lead in the AFC North with three games remaining, win the division, that leaves the Steelers and Bengals going after the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, a.k.a. the Average Football Conference.

The chances of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati both getting into the postseason declined Sunday, when they both lost and Indianapolis won. The Colts (9-4) have a two-game lead over the Steelers (7-6) and Bengals (7-6) with three weeks left.

The last-place Browns (5-8) are the hottest team in the division, which makes you think what might have been. If the Browns could've held onto fourth-quarter leads against the Ravens and Cowboys, they would also be tied with the Steelers and Bengals.

Here's what the local columnists are saying about their teams (in order of the standings):

RAVENS: The Ravens look like a team headed in the wrong direction, according to The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston. "This is the time of season when the good teams separate themselves from the bad ones," Preston wrote. "But the Ravens crashed and burned here Sunday blowing another touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. The good news is that the AFC North is in such a sorry state the both the Bengals and Steelers lost Sunday as the Ravens remained two games ahead in the division race, but the Ravens don't look like a team that can go deep into the playoffs."

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook thinks the loss to the Chargers was the worst loss of the Steelers' season. "The Chargers' only two wins in the previous 10 games were against the Kansas City Chiefs. They made the trip from the West Coast to play a 1 p.m. game," Cook wrote. "Reports broke last week that their coach, Norv Turner, will be fired after the season.Yet the Chargers embarrassed the Steelers. The fans knew what they were seeing. They gave it to the Steelers pretty hard before leaving early in the fourth quarter when the rain came, adding to the misery. There was no postgame traffic jam after this dud."

BENGALS: A.J. Green took the blame for the loss because he dropped a potential touchdown pass, but the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty points out there's a lot of blame to go around. "The Bengals used their last timeout in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Regardless of the reasoning, that’s inexcusable," Daugherty wrote. "The Bengals forgot that BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a member of their team. His last carry came with 11:59 left in the game. When you have a nine-point lead at home, against a team seemingly very comfortable with taking a loss, you don’t give them reason to believe."

BROWNS: The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto wants everyone to appreciate watching these young Browns grow up. "They treated Kansas City like a 2-10 team as the Chiefs didn't cross midfield in the second half until fewer than nine minutes were left," Pluto wrote. "Are the Browns a playoff team? Not yet. Not with a 5-8 record. But they made Kansas City look like a bad team. They will force any opponent watching tape of recent games to pause and think, 'These guys are dangerous.' They are a team packed with rookies and second-year pros who think they should win every week."