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Ravens re-sign nose tackle Brandon Williams

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USA TODAY Sports

Ravens re-sign nose tackle Brandon Williams

By Ben Brown

The Baltimore Ravens re-signed star nose tackle Brandon Williams to a five-year contract on Thursday. Williams was a candidate to receive the franchise tag from the Ravens, but the team decided not to, making him a free agent. Williams' contract is worth $54 million with $27.5 million in garunteed money and it makes him the highest paid NT in the league, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Williams is growing into one of the best interior defenders in the NFL and anchored the Ravens run defense, which allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL last season (89.4). The former third-round pick is also the model of durability as he hasn't missed a start in the last three seasons. 

The re-signing of Williams was the biggest move the Ravens made on the first day of free agency. Baltimore also signed former Chargers RB Danny Woodhead and former Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson. The team also picked up the option on wide receiver Torrey Smith and re-signed backup quarterback Ryan Mallet.

Related: Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon suspended four games for PED use

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NFL Playoff Picture: Predicting the AFC playoff bracket heading into Week 15

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USA Today Sports

NFL Playoff Picture: Predicting the AFC playoff bracket heading into Week 15

Week 14 has come and gone and the regular season is almost over.

With another week finishing, the playoff picture shifts and the bracket alters, if ever so slightly.

And while to no surprise the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are sitting atop of the AFC, the wild card spots are still very much up for grabs. 

With three weeks to go, AFC teams have a lot to play for.

Let's take a look at all the possibilities. Let's take a look at the AFC Playoff Picture.

RELATED: NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE AFTER WEEK 15

AFC PLAYOFF BRACKET PROJECTION:

— #1 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) vs. BYE

— #2 New England Patriots (10-3) vs. BYE

— #3 Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4) vs. #6 Buffalo Bills (7-6)

— #4 Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) vs. #5 Tennessee Titans (8-5)

AFC Playoff Picture Week 15

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (#1 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
11-2/5-0
— Remaining Games: @Patriots (10-2), @Texans (4-9), vs. Browns (0-13)
— Playoff Scenarios: The Steelers sit atop of the AFC playoff picture and clinched the AFC North with their 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Now they are fighting for home field advantage for their likely divisional round game against the New England Patriots.

Coincidentally, their next matchup is against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Needless to say, their Week 15 game will be an important one.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (#2 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
10-3/3-1
— Remaining Games: @Steelers (11-2), vs. Bills (7-6), vs. Jets (5-7)
— Playoff Scenarios: To everyone's surprise, the Patriots lost Monday night to the Miami Dolphins. You read that right, the Miami Dolphins.

Sitting in the second seed, this lost could mean a lot or a little depending on what they do Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's highly doubtful that the Pats will allow back-to-back losses on home turf, but if they do they'll be fighting to keep the second seed to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags are hosting the Texans, which should be an easy win.

Sunday's game is a big one for the Patriots. 

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (#3 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
9-4/3-1
— Remaining Games: vs. Texans (4-9), @49ers (3-10), @Titans (8-5)
— Playoff Scenarios: If someone told you at the beginning of the season that the Jacksonville Jaguars would be the third seed in the AFC playoff picture, you probably wouldn't believe them. 

The Jaguars could have clinched a playoff berth Sunday with their win over the Seattle Seahawks and some help from a couple other teams.

They didn't get that help, but they did take control of the AFC South. On their tail is the 8-5 Tennessee Titans who still have to face the 49ers, Rams and Jaguars.

The AFC East title may not be decided until Week 17.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (#4 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
7-6/3-1
— Remaining Games: vs. Chargers (7-6), vs. Dolphins (5-7), @Broncos (4-9)
— Playoff Scenarios: The Chiefs' season has be filled with ups and downs.

They currently have the same record as the Los Angeles Chargers, but win the tie breaker based on head-to-head win percentage for the AFC West division title. The two will meet in Week 15 and just like the Patriots, a win is crucial for both. 

The Chiefs then face the 10th seeded Miami Dolphins and the already eliminated Denver Broncos. The Chargers still have to face the Jets and Raiders, and with the team on a four game winning streak, a lot could happen.

TENNESSEE TITANS (#5 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
8-5/4-1
— Remaining Games: @49ers (3-10), vs. Rams (9-4), vs Jaguars (9-4)
— Playoff Scenarios: The Titans are a mediocre team and if they want to keep their playoff spot, they're going to have to work for it. The 49ers should be a win, but then they face the red-hot Rams and a tough Jaguars defense.

With several AFC teams on the rise, the Titans are going to have to be on point for the remainder of the season if they want to keep their wild card spot.

BUFFALO BILLS (#6 seed)
— Record/Division Record: 7-6/1-2
— Remaining Games:
vs. Dolphins (5-7), @Patriots (10-2), @ Dolphins (5-7)
— Playoff Scenarios: Right now, the Bills would win a three way tie breaker with the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers for the sixth and final playoff spot based on strength of victory and win percentage in conference games.

The Bills should win two of the next three, but the Ravens are likely to win their next three.

Either way, it's going to be a race to the finish line for both of them.

RELATED: UPDATED 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT 3.0

AFC WILD CARD PICTURE:

7. BALTIMORE RAVENS
— Record/Division Record: 
7-6/2-2
— Remaining Games: @Browns (0-13), vs. Colts (3-10), vs. Bengals (5-8)
— Playoff Scenarios: The Ravens basically need to do their job and get three easy wins and they should secure a wild card spot.

Of course the Bills still have an easy remaining schedule and the Chargers have won their last four. At the moment though, the Ravens win a tie breaker over the Chargers based on win percentage in conference games.

A wild card spot for the Ravens looks easy and they are certainly in control of their own destiny. 

8. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
— Record/Division Record:
7-6/2-2
— Remaining Games: @Cheifs (7-6) , @Jets (5-8), vs. Raiders (6-7)
— Playoff Scenarios: Sunday's game against the Cheifs is a big one for the Chargers.

They're on a four-game winning streak, but a win is crucial if they want to remain in the hunt for the AFC West title. The Jets are 5-8 and should be an easy win for the Chargers and the 6-7 Raiders are just behind them in the rankings but don't pose too much of a threat.

Sunday's game will determine a lot for this team.

9. OAKLAND RAIDERS
— Record/Division Record:
6-7/2-3
— Remaining Games: vs. Cowboys (7-6), @Eagles (11-2), @Chargers (7-6)
— Playoff Scenerios: Things aren't looking good for the Raiders as they are in third in the AFC West and are facing the Cowboys, Eagles and Chargers over the next three weeks.

It doesn't seem as if there are any scenerios that would help them make the post season.

10. MIAMI DOLPHINS
— Record/Division Record:
6-7/2-2
— Remaining Games: @Bills (7-6), @Cheifs (7-6), vs. Bills (7-6)
— Playoff Scenerios: The Dolphins are coming off a big win against the New England Patriots, but their season looks pretty dim moving forward.

With a tough remaining schedule, their playoff hopes seem far fetched. While they have the same record as the Raiders, Oakland wins a tie breaker based on head-to-head win percentage.

11. NEW YORK JETS
— Record/Divison Record:
5-8/2-3
— Remaining Games: @Saints (9-4), @Chargers (7-6), @Patriots (10-3)
— Playoff Scenerios: Being the 11th seed in anything isn't good and with your remaining opponets being the Saints, Chargers and Patriots, you might as well call it a season now. 

12. CINCINNATI BENGALS
— Record/Division Record:
5-8/2-3
— Remaining Games: @Vikings (10-3), vs. Lions (7-5), @Ravens (7-6)
— Playoff Scenerios: Just like the Jets, the Bengals don't have a fighting chance with their remaining schedule and being third in the AFC North.

Eliminated

Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, Indianaplos Colts, Cleveland Browns

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Steelers clinch AFC North with tight win over Ravens

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USA Today Sports

Steelers clinch AFC North with tight win over Ravens

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier was everywhere. His helmet rested on the Pittsburgh Steelers' bench. His jersey too. His face and #Shalieve stitched on specially-designed cleats. His familiar No. 50 printed in white in the middle of a gold circle on T-shirts worn by teammates searching for a way to let Shazier know he is never far from their mind as he recovers from a spinal injury that put the linebacker's blossoming career in jeopardy.

Shazier may never play football again. That doesn't make him any less of a Steeler. And the men who have taken so much from him over the last three-plus years decided it was time they gave him something back in return: the AFC North title he ordered them to lock down without him.

Chris Boswell made a 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left and Pittsburgh's defense overcame a shaky night without their most dynamic player to shut down Baltimore's last-gasp drive and hold on for a 39-38 victory on Sunday night to capture their third division title in the last four years.

"We are riding with that guy," head coach Mike Tomlin said of Shazier. "He is strong. He is strengthening us."

Looked like it.

RELATED: RAY LEWIS ONE STEP CLOSER TO HALL OF FAME

The Steelers (11-2) trailed by 11 points going into the fourth quarter but capped an emotionally draining week to rally for their eighth straight victory, one they couldn't wait to share with Shazier, who joined the giddy postgame celebration via Facetime.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to top 500 yards passing three times. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, including two long gains in the fourth quarter that allowed the Steelers to recover after blowing an early 14-point lead. Le'Veon Bell had 125 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns .

"We can win a shootout against anybody," Bell said. "I feel like we can score points whenever we need to."

Good thing, because Pittsburgh might have to. The Ravens (7-6) rolled up 414 yards against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense and recovered from a slow start to score on five consecutive drives and six out of seven to take a 38-29 lead on Javorius Allen's second touchdown with 6:44 left.

Not much time against most teams. Far too much against the Steelers.

Roethlisberger and Brown, who is mounting a legitimate MVP candidacy, hooked up on a 57-yard connection set up an 11-yard sprint by Bell with 3:29 to go. The Steelers forced the Ravens into a three-and-out and Roethlisberger calmly led Pittsburgh within field goal range, including a 34-yard lob down the sideline to Brown that set up Boswell's winner.

RELATED: TONY JEFFERSON PAYS TRIBUTE TO SEAN TAYLOR

Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw for 269 yards passing with two touchdowns and one interception but was strip-sacked by rookie linebacker T.J. Watt on the Ravens' final snap.

"This one hurts," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We lose to them the same way we did last year. This one sucks, but we've got to get over it. Yeah, this one's going to hurt but it's best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out there's a good chance we'll be in (the playoffs)."

Shazier, who's been in the hospital since injuring his spine in the first quarter of last week's victory over Cincinnati, told his teammates to finish the work he helped start. Even as they celebrated an important step in a journey they hope will carry them deep into the postseason, they were making plans to keep Shazier involved, starting with a late-night trip to the hospital to deliver him his AFC North champions' swag.

"We are going to give him the hat and T-shirt tonight," good friend and fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams said.

When someone mentioned visitor's hours were probably over, Williams repeated "tonight." Then, it was home to rest before preparing for a showdown with New England next Sunday.

"That's the crazy part about the NFL, things constantly change and you've got to keep rolling," Williams said. "So you've got to find a way to roll with the punches even though it may be a haymaker, got to find a way to recover."