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Monday, December 17, 2012
Wake-up: One team in, one team out

By Jamison Hensley

There has been some clarity to the playoff picture for the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens (9-5) clinched a postseason berth despite losing by 17 points, and the Cleveland Browns (5-9) were officially eliminated.

For the other teams in the division, the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) moved ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7) for sole possession of the sixth and final playoff spot. This sets up Sunday's showdown -- Bengals at Steelers -- which likely will decide one of the last two remaining playoff berths in the AFC.

Overall, the AFC North has truly gone south in December. In the last two weeks, this division has combined to go 2-6. The only wins have been the Browns over the Chiefs and the Bengals over the Eagles. It was a bad week for AFC North quarterbacks, who combined for four interceptions and three lost fumbles.

Here's your wake-up call (in order of the standings):

RAVENS: John Harbaugh faces his toughest coaching challenge yet with this December collapse, according to The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston. "If he wants to take that next step and move into the top echelon of coaching with a Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin or a Mike Tomlin, he has to find a way to rally the Ravens," Preston wrote.

BENGALS: Cincinnati gave up five sacks during the team's four-game win streak. In the two games since, the Bengals have allowed 11 sacks. The only change has been the return of center Kyle Cook, who has shared snaps with undrafted Trevor Robinson. The coaches say the rotation has had no effect on the pass protection. "They both are capable centers and do great things," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden told reporters, via CBS Sports. "But it's not even an issue; it's not even a story.”

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier believes the turnovers changed the momentum in the overtime loss at Dallas but the Steelers didn't deserve to win the game. "Their battered secondary, featuring third stringers at corner and nickel back, got smoked by  Tony Romo's 30 completions and 341 passing yards, the first 300-yard game against Dick LeBeau's chicken-wire secondary since Tim Tebow cast the Steelers out of the playoffs Jan. 8," Collier wrote. "Romo completed 12 consecutive throws at one point, including all 10 of his passes in the third quarter, and snapped the Steelers 36-game regular-season streak of not allowing a 300-plus yards passing performance."

BROWNS: The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto thinks the Browns produced a wretched home finale. "The Browns were trying to finish 5-3 at home in 2012," Pluto wrote. "That would have been their second-best home record since 1999. Instead, this was the second-most lopsided loss in Shurmur's two years as coach. It was a lousy way to close out a season in front of a fan base who deserved a better effort than what they endured."