AFC North Week 11 Predictions

    768 432 Ravenous128

    “Will the wind ever remember
    The names it has blown in the past?
    And with this crutch, its old age and its wisdom
    It whispers no, this will be the last.”
    “The Wind Cries Mary” (c) 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Polydor Records

    Last week’s follies did little to indicate who reigns over the AFC North. The best performance may well have been courtesy of the Bengals, whose players sat comfortably in their respective recliners during their bye week and watched the division lose, lose and tie, mostly to what’s broadly considered inferior competition.  After 11 weeks, this division is no closer to determining a consensus winner, with each game sowing more doubt in the ability of our beloved clubs to accomplish anything meaningful this season.

    “Predictions”, indeed.

    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.

     

    Detroit Lions (0-8-1) @ Cleveland Browns (5-5)
    Sunday, November 21, 1:00 pm, Fox

    It’s not hyperbole to say the Browns have struggled recently.  Given their last performance, it’s tough to imagine anyone associated with this roster is feeling particularly confident in their chances to win the division right now, including battered – both physically and virtually – QB Baker Mayfield.  But this is the Lions, who, facing the Steelers, effectively de-evolutionized the game of football back to roughly 1952 with their shameful, bumbling display last week, ultimately resulting in a 16-16 tie.  No matter how abused the Browns and Mayfield have been lately, this represents the best “bounce back” scenario the Browns could hope for in today’s NFL.

    The only statistic of note seems to be that Lions QB Jared Goff, who may not start due to an oblique injury, and Mayfield are both former #1 overall picks in their respective drafts.  I’ll let you decide if that matters.

    The Browns will get star RB Nick Chubb back from COVID-19 this week, which will be a huge boost to the offense overall.  It remains to be seen how effective the recovering Chubb will be, but even as a decoy, Chubb offers more ability than most, as his presence must be accounted for defensively.  Look for lots of rushing against a middling Detroit front seven, if only to keep the pressure off Mayfield and his bum shoulder.  The Lions will counter with Goff setting up the passing attack via multitalented RB DeAndre Swift, but given the struggles of this club to gain any momentum via either the run or pass, I suspect it won’t make much difference.

    Lions 20, Browns 26

     

    Baltimore Ravens (6-3) @ Chicago Bears (3-6)
    Sunday, November 21, 1:00 pm, CBS

    As many analysts have pointed out this week, the Ravens have never won in Chicago.  While it’s a mild anomaly of statistics, I don’t know how much that will apply here.  Given the Ravens’ propensity to lose to inferior competition, I’d say the odds of that streak continuing are at least even.

    Simply put, the Ravens’ roster is broken.  They’re relying on refuse and castoffs from around the NFL in key spots, and can’t seem to settle on a consistent starting offensive lineup beyond QB Lamar Jackson, TE Mark Andrews and WR Marquise Brown.  The weekly shifts in RB choices do nothing to help continuity along the offensive line, which is sorely needed.  A lone bright spot has been the emergence of rookie WR Rashod Bateman, who’s proving to be a solid contributor and a nice compliment to Brown and Andrews.

    The Bears will depend on the exploits of rookie QB Justin Fields, whose size and mobility provide a unique challenge to a beleaguered Ravens defense that’s shown little ability to tackle, pursue or contain the edge.  Chicago’s passing game isn’t exactly feared in league circles, but Fields’ reaction ability has produced more offense recently.  Given the Ravens’ struggles in defending both the run and pass, it’s tough to say what their game plan will concentrate on, but any area would be acceptable.  This team has a long, long offseason ahead of it.

    Ravens 24, Bears 26

     

    Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) @ Las Vegas Raiders (5-4)
    Sunday, November 21, 4:05 pm, CBS

    Interesting matchup here, as both teams led their respective divisions just a few weeks ago and were in the discussion as Super Bowl hopefuls.  This is obviously not the case now, as the tumultuous Raiders season continues to unravel due to personnel losses and coaching shifts.  The Bengals haven’t been much better lately, as their losses to both the Jets and Browns exposed several defensive issues, particularly in the secondary.

    Nothing fancy here; the Bengals are sure to attack with their intermediate passing game, with the QB Joe Burrow/WR Ja’Marr Chase combo highlighting a dangerous offense overall.  The Raiders have an adequate defense and have applied effective pressure to opposing QBs pretty consistently with DEs Maxx Crosby and the resurgent Yannick Ngakoue; look for them to apply pressure to Burrow often while the Bengals try to counter with their rushing attack, which hasn’t been all that effective even with the presence of RB Joe Mixon.

    This would be a good game for S Jessie Bates to burnish his Pro Bowl credentials, as Raiders QB David Carr likes to pass a lot – he’s currently fourth in the NFL in passing yards despite lots of shuffles at WR and TE.  Like the Bengals, the Raiders’ rushing attack has been spotty, so look for a similar response from the Bengals’ front seven – rush the passer often.

    Bengals 27, Raiders 31

     

    Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3-1) @ Los Angeles Chargers (5-4)
    Sunday, November 21, 8:20 pm, NBC

    The Chargers are tough to figure out.  Having lost three of their last four games, their talented, once-promising roster appears to be in freefall.  QB Justin Herbert, once viewed as a possible MVP candidate, has appeared quite ordinary during this span.  The team seems directionless, and if I were to guess, I’d say widely-touted rookie head coach Brandon Staley’s status may take a serious hit this offseason if things don’t improve.  It should be noted that injuries have taken a significant toll on the Chargers this season, with most of the starting defensive line sidelined for this game, including standout DE Joey Bosa.

    Enter the Steelers, fresh off their tie against the hapless Lions.  The Steelers looked inept offensively last week, due mostly to the absence of starting QB Ben Roethlisberger (COVID-19), who may miss this game as well if he fails to produce the mandatory two consecutive negative COVID-19 tests in a 24-hour period.  We’ll know shortly, but the Steelers seems resigned to going back to suspect backup QB Mason Rudolph or QB Dwayne Haskins, neither of which has shown much reason to foster any confidence they can win, particularly on the road.  Given the perceived weakness the Chargers will have along the defensive line, expect the Steelers to run the ball as much as their makeshift offensive line will allow to take the pressure off whoever’s behind center.  Rookie RB Najee Harris remains the offense’s best weapon this year, and they should take all advantage of him.

    All-world OLB T.J. Watt remains questionable with knee and ankle concerns for the Steelers, and his status will most likely be a game-time decision.  If Watt doesn’t play, the Chargers’ chances of winning go up significantly, as few players in the league have been able to disrupt offenses as effectively as Watt has this year.  There’s normally just enough depth beyond Watt for this defense to remain formidable, but the team is also facing the loss of S Minkah Fitzpatrick (COVID-19), which is significant in both run support and coverage.  Given these losses, it’s tough to see the Steelers pulling this one out, especially in a hostile environment.

    Steelers 17, Chargers 27

     

    Go Team.

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