AFC North Preview

Rolling along with my preseason predictions, this time with the AFC North:

  1. Steelers (9-7-1 last season): Think about this for a moment: The Steelers came within a half game of winning this division over the Super Bowl-bound Bengals, with decrepit Ben Roethlisberger as the QB! Just add a QB who can scramble and who can throw the ball farther than 5 yards, and this team is easily winning this division. It literally doesn’t matter if it’s Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett. Either of them is better than the ghost of Old Ben. Prediction: 11-6 and the division title.

  2. Ravens (8-9 last season): Expect the Ravens to return to the formula that kept them as a wild card team in 2020. Unfortunately, Lamar Jackson won’t last long, and Tyler Huntley can only take them so far. But definitely expect more running than passing. Losing two RB’s before the season was a freak event last year. Prediction: 9-8 and out of the playoffs.

  3. Browns (8-9 last season): I am basing this projection on Deshaun Watson missing 6 games. I expect those to be 6 losses. However, after that, this team should be a juggernaut that misses the p[layoffs. Watch them as they knock a few teams out of the playoffs. Prediction: 9-8, with most of their wins coming after Watson’s suspension ends.

  4. Bengals (10-7 last season): How can I possibly project the Bengals to be the cellar-dwellers of the AFC North, after going to the Super Bowl? Easy: The Bengals are like a bad meal: They don’t repeat well. Expect Joe Burrow to be injured at some point or points, as he struggles behind their swiss cheese offensive line, which he managed to survive last year. Think they can repeat with Brandon Allen at QB? Prediction: 7-10 and out of the playoffs.

P.S. My win-loss predictions are based on the strength/weaknesses of the teams, not an in-depth rundown of the schedule.

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Switch the Steelers and the Bengals, and you might be on to something here. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

The one reason I am not too optimistic about the Bengals is history. Teams often struggle after losing the super bowl last year. What makes me optimistic is that those teams often were in win-now mode, with ageing players, who were yet another year older in the following year. That’s not the case in Cinci. All their key players are young, at least on offense, and will be determined to finish the mission this year.

That is true for the o-liners as well. They have one guy from 2019 and 2 guys from 2021. Plus now another 4th round pick from this year. They won’t be stellar this year, but we will see improvements. The Bengals will fall victim to a few upsets early in the season, but I can see them not losing a game after their week 10 bye. They will make the playoffs.

The Steelers, however… yes, Big Ben was old last year. But the Steelers o-line was also terrible. PFF ranked them behind even Cinci’s. Their run-blocking was atrocious, making Najee’s season even more of a sensation. On average, he had less than a yard on the ground before making contact.

The biggest concern was that Big Ben might get hit. Avoiding that was the entire focus of the o-line, and of Big Ben himself, who took an average 2.2 seconds before throwing the ball. I’m fairly sure he was well capable of throwing the ball further than 5 yards. But if he wants to get rid of it in under 2 seconds on most plays, there is nobody deep to throw the ball to.

However, he played that game really well. And his successor (whoever it will be) will be a downgrade at first in terms of reliability. The o-line hasn’t been improved at all, even though they also have 3 young guys there who might be able to take another step. Still, if you are pessimistic on Cinci because of their o-line, then why are you optimistic on the Steelers, who have the exact same problem, yet arguably less talented QBs?

I see a lot of sacks, QB fumbles and INTs for the Steelers. What I don’t see is that leading to a winning record.

As for the Ravens, I am a little more optimistic. They lost a ridiculous amount of RBs to injuries last year, and I don’t see that repeating. Plus, Tyler Huntley proved to be a pretty competent backup to Lamar, at least on the ground. If the backfield stays healthy, the Ravens might be able to afford losing Lamar for a few games, without their season being derailed completely.

And the Browns - I expect Deshaun missing 8 games, and I’m not even sure the Browns will be dominant once he becomes available. His receiver corps is pretty underwhelming.

Bengals - Ravens - Steelers - Browns is what I can see as an outcome for this division, with the Ravens not being a favorite for a wildcard playoff spot.

One thing either Trubisky or Pickett have which Roethlisberger didn’t last year: Mobility. These guys can scramble in the pocket, or out of it if need be. Ben was a statue. This gives the Pitt o-line some relief. It also gives the receivers time to get open downfield, another aspect Pittsburgh hasn’t seen in over a year.

I am borderline on the Ravens. If they pull out one more win, they could easily be in the wild card hunt. That said, their 1930’s style offense is becoming predictable for most teams. I do agree with you on Tyler Huntley though. I’d love to see him get a starting job somewhere.

One of the few things keeping the Browns competitive in spite of Deshaun Watson’s suspension is their running game/offensive line. It is awfully superior. I saw that last year. They can’t carry that to a Super Bowl, but it will keep them in most games.

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Burrow isn’t exactly a statue, either. He doesn’t run a lot, but he is quite agile in the pocket.

The problem is that a sub-par o-line paired with a QB who likes to extend plays will lead to a lot of sacks. That’s a scenario I see with both the Steelers and the Bengals. The Bengals have shown they can still be successful, the Steelers have yet to prove it.

I’m just surprised that you see an identical problematic scenario as a reason for failure for one team, and a reason for success for the other.

If Mitch Trubisky plans to scramble a lot to give Chase Claypool time to get open downfield, he will probably get sacked as often as Joe Burrow.

Here’s the key: Cincy expects to win, while Pittsburgh wants to win. Eye of the tiger.

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That should be an interesting week 1 matchup, then.

I can see the Bengals struggling a bit, early in the season. Wouldn’t be shocked if they were 4-5 when heading into their week 10 bye. But that should cure that “expect to win” complacency. I could still see them finishing 12-5 or 11-6.

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Here’s the key: I am not saying Cincy cannot win the division, only that events outside of their control will prevent that from happening.