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AFC North Predictions

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  • Money-Line: Baltimore Ravens +120
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Baltimore Ravens

After going through three distinct streaks, Baltimore Ravens finished second after winning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Cleveland. The Ravens opened with a 5–2 record before battling COVID-19 issues during a 1–4 losing streak. Baltimore closed the season with five straight wins against teams that finished with a combined 28-51-1 record. Following a 20–13 Wild Card playoff win against Tennessee, the Ravens lost 17–3 to Buffalo in the Divisional round.

Entering his fourth season, QB Lamar Jackson regressed somewhat last season as his passing yards total dropped from 3,127 to 2,757. His touchdown passes also went down from 36 to 26, and his interceptions went up from 6 to 9, unfortunately. The Ravens selected WR Rashod Bateman with the 27th pick overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. They also added free agent WR Sammy Watkins who will line up opposite Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.

Ravens lost DE Yannick Ngakoue to LA Raiders and LT Orlando Brown to Kansas City Chiefs. The Orlando Brown trade I find a little troubling as they play in the same conference. But getting 4 solid draft picks for a player who wanted to be play LT which he couldn’t at Ravens because Ronnie Stanley just signed a long deal as their starting LT is a good deal when you consider the negative, except it could have had to the locker room.

Cleveland Browns

Before posting an 11–5 record last season, the Browns went 51–140–1 during 12 straight losing seasons. Continuously bogged down by personnel turnover, including seven different General Managers, plus nine head coaches, the perpetual rebuild in Cleveland finally produced a winning record. You can add 10 starting quarterbacks to the turmoil the Browns have been going through since the 2008 season.

Baker Mayfield enters his fourth NFL season with Cleveland Browns. While his 2019 statistics didn’t set a very high bar, Mayfield posted improved the last season across multiple stats. Most notable, his interceptions dropped from 21 in 2019 to just eight last season.

Offensively they are a complete unit. PFF graded their O-line as the best in the NFL. They are returning all of their starters. They boast the best 1-2 punch of any backfield as well, in my opinion. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are both elite RB´s who complement each other perfectly. Their pass catchers are also elite, with OBJ, undoubtedly one of the premier outside WRs, Jarvis Landry, a very reliable slot receiver, and Rashard Higgins, who showed a really nice connection with Baker Mayfield. Austin Hooper compliments the WR squad as a solid tight end. But can we expect the same level of play from Baker Mayfield, who has had trouble living up to the hype when the pressure rises.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

He took a pay cut to do it, but Steelers’ longtime quarterback “Big” Ben Roethlisberger is back on Pittsburgh’s roster. However, his lackluster performance towards the end of the last regular season and in the playoffs has some NFL talking heads doubting whether he still has the arm left to play in the big leagues.

For many years now, the Steelers have prided themselves on their top-notch defense; last season, that squad having a major impact on Pittsburgh’s initial 11-0 run to start the season. TJ Watt being a DPOY candidate. Having a troubling RB group last season with just 84.4 rushing yards per game last year. Steelers GM drafted RB Najee Harris in the first round in the hope of securing a better running game to help “Big Ben.” It meant that James Conner ended as a free agent and landed a job in Arizona.

During the off-season EDGE, Bud Depree left the team, but in return, Steelers added OT Joe Haeg, S Miles Killebrew, and CB.J. Finley. Importantly Juju Smith-Schuster returned, and hopefully, he won´t be distracted this year if it seemed to be the case last season. Offensively TE Pat Freiermuth was selected in the 2nd round with the 55 pick overall. Having a solid defense should help Ben Roethlisberger avoid forcing any plays, and if Najee Harris can lift the Steelers running game to a 100+ yards on average, then Steelers could be a playoff contender.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

A new era began in Cincinnati last year as rookie QB Joe Burrow made his NFL debut. Selected first overall, during the 2020 NFL Draft, the former LSU Tigers star played as advertised. Borrow posted 2,688 passing yards, with 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He added 144 rushing yards, and three scores, before tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 11. Joe Burrow has been a part of Bengals OTA passing drills, but he misses easy throws and seems scared when he stands in the pocket. Somewhat expected when you consider the injury, but you can´t play scared in the NFL.

RB Joe Mixon was another key player to miss time as he sat out the final ten games due to a foot injury. However, Mixon has been a full participant during the Bengals’ OTAs as well. Reuniting with his former LSU quarterback, Cincinnati selected WR Ja´Marr Chase with the 5th overall pick in the draft. This season, Cincinnati Bengals have the talent to be an explosive offense, but the consistency could be a problem.

The Bengals added RT Riley Reiff and OT Jackson Carman to help protect Joe Burrow. He needs the protection and can´t afford to go down hard again this season. It would be a shame to have his talent wasted to injuries, as with RGIII.

 

Who to pick as your division winner?

Baltimore won the AFC North the previous two seasons, and the Ravens added new weapons on offense for QB Lamar Jackson. After finishing last overall, with just 182.4 pass yards per game, Baltimore stocked up on wide receivers during the offseason. The Browns’ last divisional championship was back in 1989 when they played in the AFC Central Division. Therefore, the Browns were focused on adding pieces to their defense during the offseason. I will back Baltimore as AFC North champs with a Lamar Jackson who should improve his passing yards average.

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