Heading into Sunday's games, there were three teams alive in the playoff hunt. On Monday morning, there is just one playoff scenario remaining for the division.
It was truly separation Sunday for the division as the Ravens (10-5) clinched the AFC North and the Bengals (9-6) secured the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. The Steelers (7-8) were eliminated with one game left in the regular season.
So, what is there left to resolve? The Ravens' playoff seed. Baltimore is currently No. 4 and would play host to the Colts in the first round if the season ended today. If the Ravens win in Cincinnati and the Patriots (11-4) lose at home to Miami, Baltimore would move up to the No. 3 spot (by virtue of its Week 3 win over New England) and face the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium in the first round. According to ESPN Stats & Information, there is no chance for the Ravens to jump to one of the top two seeds and get a first-round bye.
As for the Browns (5-10), they hold the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.
Here's what the local columnists are saying about their teams (based on order of current standings) ...
RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck pointed out that quarterback Joe Flacco didn't turn his nose up to critics after his strong performance against the Giants. "Here’s the bottom line: You can’t be a great quarterback without a great system and supporting cast, and you can’t have a great system without a great quarterback. It all has to work together the way it did on Sunday," Schmuck wrote. "Only time will tell whether Flacco is a truly great quarterback, but he’s a very good one and the Ravens are lucky to have him."
BENGALS: The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty thinks the Bengals' win over the Steelers may signal a changing of the guard in the AFC North. "The Bengals are in the playoffs, for the second year in a row," Daugherty wrote. "They have a core group of young players capable of making many happy returns. The Steelers are out of the playoffs, beaten at home in a must-win game, by the kid whose lunch money they used to steal. Not only did the Bengals beat Pittsburgh, 13-10, they beat the Steelers in a way that revealed the sort of championship character the Steelers used to assume."
STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier believes Sunday's game between the Bengals and Steelers is a perfect reason for not expanding the playoffs. "It's practically criminal that either of these teams as constituted would turn up in the postseason at all, but at least the Steelers had the good manners to recognize their persistent incompetence and bow out," Collier wrote. "Can't say the same for the Bengals, who'll be eliminated at their earliest convenience, confirming all suspicion that they are just another AFC North pretender."
BROWNS: December is the saddest time of the year for Browns fans, according to The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto. "The last time December mattered to the Browns was 2007, when the Browns finished 10-6, but missed the playoffs," Pluto wrote. "In 2002, they were 9-7 and made the playoffs. In all the other seasons since the team returned in 1999, these December game have been about as appealing as a clump of soot-stained snow. As Christmas approaches, being a Browns fan is like looking under the tree to see what was left for you by the football Santa. But it's empty, except for the needles that dropped off a dying tree."