The 2012 NFL season came to a close and half of the AFC North will play in the Wildcard round this weekend and half of the division will be watching the Wildcard round from home. The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, who both will be in the playoffs, squared off in week 17, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns squared off as well.
In what was a glorified preseason game, the Cincinnati Bengals used a pick six off of Tyrod Taylor to help lead them to a 23-17 victory over their AFC North division rival Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore and Cincinnati were more focused on next week's Wildcard Round of the Playoffs and less focused on this meaningless game. Baltimore's Ray Rice and Joe Flacco played two drives, while Cincinnati's marquee starters played the first half. For the guys that did play the game, some of them played pretty well. Taylor had a nice day, other than the pick six, filling in for Flacco once he was pulled as he completed 15 of 25 pass attempts for 149 yards with a rushing touchdown and the interception. Taylor, Bernard Pierce and Anthony Allen were a nice three headed rushing attack throughout the day for Baltimore as well. Pierce led the way with 89 yards on 22 carries, Taylor ran for 65 yards on nine carries with a touchdown, and Allen rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown. Baltimore showed that if anything were to happen to Flacco, the Ravens offense would flip the switch to a totally different offense as Taylor was running the option and with his speed and ability to throw the football, it looked pretty good.
Pittsburgh and Cleveland took on each other in the Steel City, and the Steelers made sure they did not finish the season with a losing record for the first time in almost ten years, beating the Browns 24-10. Ben Roethlisberger was held at bay yardage wise, but did throw three touchdown passes. The real story came Monday, as the Cleveland Browns fired head coach Pat Shurmur, who was 9-23 in two seasons with the Browns. Pittsburgh finished the season 8-8 and will not be in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, while the Browns finished 5-11 and will once again be in a rebuilding mode this offseason. Cleveland will have a couple staples to build around though however, as their offensive rookie tandem of quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson look legit, but certainly have a lot of work to do.
Baltimore and Cincinnati will now completely turn their focus to this coming weekend as the road to the Super Bowl and tournament begins on Saturday. The Bengals will hit the road and travel to Houston to take on the Texans, as they lost to the Indianapolis Colts to drop from the one seed to the three seed and miss out on a bye. The Ravens will host those Colts in the four vs five matchup that brings rookie sensation Andrew Luck to Baltimore for the first time and Ravens fans are anxiously anticipating a return from LB Ray Lewis, but nothing has been made official yet. Baltimore will play on Sunday at 1pm, while Cincinnati will play Saturday at 4:30pm.
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