Ravens feeling pressure from Browns over final AFC North stretch

The Cleveland Browns suddenly have their sights set on overtaking the Ravens in the AFC North.

Cleveland won its third consecutive game with a 36-22 victory over the Houston Texans in Week 16.

The Browns now trail the Ravens by 1 1/2 games in the division, which will shift depending on what the Ravens do Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Browns (10-5) also have the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs, but they can’t clinch a postseason berth this week. However, they should eventually secure their second playoff appearance since 2002 in Week 17 or 18. It’s the third time since 1999 that Cleveland has reached double-digit wins.

The Ravens and Browns split their regular-season meetings.

Cleveland can win the AFC North if it can beat the Jets and Bengals in the final two weeks and the Ravens go 1-2 against the 49ers, Dolphins and Steelers because the Browns would have a better conference record.

Former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has led the charge as the starter for Cleveland. Flacco threw for 368 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in the victory over Houston. The 38-year old Flacco became the third-oldest player in NFL history to record three straight 300-yard games behind Tom Brady and Warren Moon.

He threw the ball to nine different players.

However, Flacco’s favorite target was Amari Cooper, who set a franchise record with 265 yards receiving with two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion.

Cleveland doesn’t appear to be going away and could keep pressure on the Ravens down the stretch.

“I don’t even want to think about that,” Flacco said. “It’s just ‘keep our eye on the prize.’”

Both the Steelers and Bengals are 8-7 but now reside outside the playoff race as the ninth and 10th seeds, respectively.

The Ravens still own the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff standings. However, if the Ravens lose to San Francisco, the Dolphins will be tied for that top seed and play in Baltimore in Week 17.

Coach John Harbaugh has confidence in his players.

“That’s the thing about this team; it’s a very mature team, and I think they understand the challenge in front of them, and they understand their opponent, and they understand themselves,” Harbaugh said. “So, you get into the game … And they also understand situations – game situations – really well. So, all those things probably have led to that, and that’s what you have to do this time of year, for sure. And I really hope that that expresses itself over the next few weeks and the multiple weeks [ahead].”

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