In the second of our AFC predictions series, Daniel brings you his forecast for the teams in the AFC North.
The man with a million commercials, Baker Mayfield, finally won a playoff game last year and expectations are now sky-high for the 2021 campaign... but should they be?
Admittedly, the run game looks as strong as ever, and Mayfield has shown progress on play-action designs that utilize his scrambling, improvisational skill-set the most efficiently, but the season still feels like it might hang in the balance when Cleveland faces Baltimore in back to back contests, separated only by the Browns’ bye week.
The rest of the schedule isn’t impossibly hard and Cleveland should be able to go close to 5-2 during the first couple of weeks, as long as they don’t stumble too harshly out of the gate when Kansas City rolls up for week 1. A defense that got bolstered in the draft should help this squad reach new heights, but it’s fair to wonder if the rest of the league has caught up with Baker’s ascension during the off-season...
This team will live and die by the run, and if they ask Mayfield to throw them out of a hole too regularly, it’s going to get real nasty real quick.
Best case scenario is a whopping 13-4, and their schedule keeps it lighthearted, with a worst case scenario of 9-8. But something tells me the NFL wants this team in the playoffs....
The only question on Steelers minds this offseason, is “will Big Ben be able to go the distance?” because the end of last year was ugly...
We all know the narrative of Roethlisberger being a lazy, aging, immobile quarterback, and unless some proof emerges, showing that Ben has started taking better care of his body, it’s hard to imagine Pittsburg going very far come December.
They still have play makers all across their offense, and Tomlin’s defense is always solid... but it’s hard to know what’s in store for a team that acted out their own version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last year.
Which one will show up? I predict that this team will be able to split the rivalry with Baltimore, but will get swept by the Browns... which seems fair, considering Pittsburg seems to be coasting by on legacy, rather than striving to get better each year (whereas Cleveland is pulling out all the stops to ensure success).
They also play the NFC North this year, which could wind up being somewhat of a godsend if Aaron Rodgers moves on from Green Bay. They also eventually face the Chiefs late...
So I’m predicting the Steelers wind up with a best case scenario of 12-5 and a worst case scenario of 9-8.
Besides injuries, I don’t see how this team misses the playoffs.
Nobody in the entire National Football League can guard Lamar Jackson (let alone anyone in their division) which means that besides a week 2 clash against the Kansas City Chiefs, a week 5 game against the Indianapolis Colts and a penultimate tilt against the revamped Los Angeles Rams, I don’t see many teams capable of maintaining the Ravens’ offensive pace.
Week 13 marks the second of two games that Baltimore will play against the Browns, and I suspect this match-up will serve as an opportunity for revenge, depending on what happened during their first meeting... but all in all, it’s Jackson’s health that truly matters. He is constantly one play away from being rendered useless (something that can obviously be said for every player, but takes greater significance when a quarterback is known for his electric running style) and without him, the Ravens’ offense is inoperable.
Baltimore’s defense will keep opponents honest, so at least that’s a constant we can count on. Best case scenario is 13-4, worst case scenario is 8-9
With Joe Burrow coming off an ACL injury, it will be interesting to see how long it takes him to get his confidence back, once the lights come on in September and the games really matter.
He’s got a great receiving cast, despite losing A.J. Green to the Cardinals, and should greatly benefit from the reunion of his recently-drafted former LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase. Their schedule isn’t super difficult... but that’s already pushing it, for a squad that figures to struggle to keep up with their divisional foes.
And by the way, the end of their schedule is brutal, with Cincinnati finishing against the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns during the final three weeks of the regular season.
I have a feeling this team will fall out of contention around November, and become the biggest spoilers in the AFC. The talent is there, but the roster is extremely young and as last year proved, there isn’t enough depth to protect against injuries at key positions (except Wide Receiver, now!).
I think it’s fair to expect a best case scenario of 9-8 and a worst case scenario of 5-12.
Dan Bernardini wasn't always the camouflage-clad shadow he is today. No, once upon a time he had it all. Six-figure hedgefund gig, designer suits, luxury car... And boy did he love his Sundays by the pool, splashing around with the wife and kids. It was a great life, until the illuminati took it all away. When the financial crisis hit, Dan was suddenly left holding the bag. "Could have happened to anyone" the lawyers lamented, as the feds seized it all...