Welcome back and all that. Each week, I’ll post a quick writeup of pending AFC North games, with a few notable points and, yes, timely, knowledgeable predictions regarding the games’ outcomes.
As usual, 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.
Houston Texans @ Cleveland Browns
Sunday, November 15, 1:00 pm, Fox
While the oft-bashed Texans receive unending scorn for their 2020 offseason of marked personnel evaluation incompetence, enough solid players remain on their roster to make this game interesting for the Browns. Texans QB Deshaun Watson is somehow stringing together a respectable year with little help beyond WR (and erstwhile trade asset) Will Fuller. The Browns’ defense should be able to hold this group in check with an effective pass rush, but their secondary remains problematic enough to warrant extra attention for Fuller.
The Browns may be welcoming RB Nick Chubb back to the field for this game, which only stands to improve a not-so-bad rushing attack without him. Chubb would have no problem setting up play-action passing for QB Baker Mayfield, which is a staple of head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense. A suspect Texans rushing defense puts the onus of responsibility squarely on its own shoulders, especially if Chubb and backup RB Kareem Hunt are able to break loose. This will most likely be a long day for the Texans.
McDermott/Beane 2020: Texans 24, Browns 27
Me: Texans 16, Browns 30
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, November 15, 4:25 pm, Fox
As the dwindling Cincinnati fanbase is well aware, rookie QB Joe Burrow has displayed enough passing and decision-making skills to finally warrant optimism for the future. Burrow has gotten better with each game he’s started and has managed to keep his turnovers minimal. Lacking offensive contributions for the rest of the skill positions, it’s safe to say Burrow isn’t this team’s problem, but a glaring dearth of roster depth still is. I would expect continued middling success until the Bengals can add one more offseason’s pickups to the roster, particularly to the offensive line and receiving corps.
The Steelers are anxiously awaiting the results of QB Ben Roethlisberger’s COVID-19 isolation (no positive tests as of this writing), because they’ve seen the future without “Big” Ben as lately as last week, and it’s not optimal for their continued success in 2020. In addition to his illness considerations, Roethlisberger suffered a knee strain last Sunday, and how he responds from a mobility standpoint will place added emphasis on his protection/blocking should he be cleared to play.
Defensively, the game plan is pretty clear for both teams – stop the pass at all costs, and force both teams to rely on their inconsistent rushing attacks. Given their established defensive prowess, it’s evident the Steelers are in a better position to do so.
McDermott/Beane 2020: Bengals 19, Steelers 31
Me: Bengals 24, Steelers 31
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
Sunday, November 15, 8:20 pm, NBC
It’s become exceedingly rare to see the Patriots sporting a losing record, let alone seeming resigned to it. Given their struggles and obvious roster deficiencies, it’s little wonder former Patriots QB Tom Brady skipped town after his contract expired; it was evident during last season’s campaign that the team required an exhaustive overhaul, and reduced play this season offers the Patriots a chance to improve their draft position despite losing a lot of games. This must be emotionally wrenching to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose known intolerance for losses has been well documented.
The Ravens, of course, have well-documented issues of their own. Until the second half of last Sunday’s contest, the Ravens’ fearsome rushing attack had been held largely in check, the passing attack was limited and predictable, and the team displayed little beyond lethargy with each failed drive. One half of resurgent football doesn’t compensate for half a season of ineptitude, so the onus remains on the Ravens to play to their strengths and reignite their slumping offense in time to still pursue a division title and better playoff seeding (should they get that far).
McDermott/Beane 2020: Ravens 34, Patriots 13
Me: Ravens 26, Patriots 21
See y’all there.