“I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes and blown out on the trail
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm.”
“Shelter From the Storm”, Bob Dylan (c) 1975
The NFL remains the schizophrenic beast it’s always been.
Nowhere is this more evident than the AFC North, which has seen its top two teams blown out in spectacular fashion twice in the last three weeks. The supposedly listless and left-for-dead Browns reanimated enough to play solid defense and net a convincing win against the rival Bengals last week. The impossible-to-define Ravens pulled out their third overtime win of the 2021 season against the equally baffling Vikings. The Steelers won pretty much like most thought they would – in ugly, unconvincing fashion.
All four teams sport winning records, which I’ll claim without research is the first time that’s happened this late in any season since the creation of the division. So who ya got?
These picks are for fun and should in no way be used for actual wagering purposes. That is, unless you want to make a ton of money in a legal forum, because we know more stuff and things about football than you do or something.
Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins
Thursday, November 11, 8:20 pm, Fox/NFLN
An eye-popping stat was revealed to me this morning – the Ravens, under head coach John Harbaugh, are 8-1 against the Dolphins, with a point differential of a million to zero or something (okay, it’s not that egregious, but it’s still significant at 284-99). The Dolphins’ struggles through recent decades isn’t a well-kept secret, but one would think the stockpiling of draft picks and talent would’ve benefitted them with a winning record at some point. Dolphins team brass has not revealed who will start for them Thursday night at QB; it’s either the increasingly-brittle and inconsistent Tua Tagovailoa, currently questionable with a thumb issue, or backup veteran Jacoby Brissett. I’ll go with Brissett for his experience alone, as “Tua” has shown little to indicate he can handle a pass rush, which he’d undoubtedly see in droves from a Ravens defensive front that’s eager to fatten up their sack totals.
The Ravens will do what they do, cliché as it sounds. Given the general anemia the Miami defense seems to display weekly, expect QB Lamar Jackson to exploit any weakness the Dolphins display first, whether it’s on the ground or through the air. Jackson has taken a lot of hits in recent weeks, so one would think the Ravens’ meager RB options would be more heavily employed here, but it will depend on their performance at the outset. If the backs are underperforming, there’s little doubt Jackson will…do what he does.
Ravens 30, Dolphins 16
Cleveland Browns @ New England Patriots
Sunday, November 14, 1:00 pm, CBS
Are the Browns “back”? Did they actually go anywhere?
Cleveland faces an upstart New England team that’s gotten good results in recent weeks from a solid defense and rookie QB Mack Jones, who seems to be adopting the relaxed mindset of his predecessor (yeah, that guy). Jones is still a rookie, of course, and his numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s shown a propensity to not panic and to listen to his coaches. Expect the Browns to attack via the pass rush as often as possible to disrupt the rookie’s timing and to potentially force a turnover or two.
The Browns are hoping RB Nick Chubb escapes his COVID-19 diagnosis in time to play Sunday (he must test negative twice within 24 hours prior to game time); if he’s unable to go, the team will rely on able fill-in D’Ernest Johnson. QB Baker Mayfield has an left (non-throwing) shoulder issue that clearly limited his sightlines and delivery, so the Patriots will undoubtedly attack this perceived weakness with free agent pickup OLB Matthew Judon, who’s proven to be an excellent fit for head coach Bill Belichick’s assorted defensive schemes. The Browns should be singularly focused on protecting Mayfield, and with a gradually-getting-healthy offensive line, they should be able to do just that.
Browns 26, Patriots 20
Detroit Lions @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, November 14, 1:00 pm, Fox
In a word, ugh. In what promises to be a gigantic eyesore of a game, the Steelers, their plodding offense and their good defense welcome the 0-8 Lions, who have long since dispensed with the idea that “they’re just a few plays away” and are recognizing the need for better personnel at almost every level if they wish to improve. They won’t find any of those folks this week and their game plans are routinely suspect, so I would expect the deliberative Steelers offense to employ long, uncomplicated drives to tucker out the Detroit defense, probably by halftime. Look for a lot of carries by Steelers RB Najee Harris in this one.
The Detroit “attack” is dependent on the skills of TE T.J. Hockenson, who may be the team’s lone Pro Bowl representative this season. As such, he will be the clear preferred target for Lions QB Jared Goff in this game, and he should be easy enough to remove from a scheming standpoint with a nickel CB or third safety. As Detroit’s wideouts generally scare no one, it’s expected Goff will also employ a lot of checkdowns to RB DeAndre Swift, who’s proven reasonably adept at creating yards from short passes, particularly screens. One matchup to watch: Lions rookie OT Penei Sewell v. Steelers OLB T.J. Watt, which will be a “measuring stick” of Sewell’s viability as a blue-chip LT going forward. So far, the results have been somewhat poor.
Lions 13, Steelers 20