AFC North Week 12 Predictions

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    “They carry news that must get through
    To build a dream for me and you, oh, oh, oh
    They choose the path where no one goes
    They hold no quarter
    They ask no quarter.”
    “No Quarter”, by Led Zeppelin (c) 1971, Atlantic Records

    It’s Thanksgiving!  And Division Week!

    I’m actually happier about it being Division Week.  The AFC North has had precious few intra-divisional matchups thus far, and it will take many more to begin sorting out AFC North supremacy.  The Ravens have a tenuous hold on the divisional lead, but few have confidence they’ll be able to retain it for any period…but then again, they very well could.  This level of team schizophrenia is becoming all too common in the AFC North, so the only resolution appears to be to pit them against each other and hope for the best.

    Whatever that is.

    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.

     

    Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1) @ Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)
    Sunday, November 28, 1:00 pm, CBS

    The Steelers need help.

    After last week’s noble but ultimately fruitless comeback effort against the Chargers, the Steelers have surely come to the realization they simply can’t progress until their talent level is improved across the board.  QB Ben Roethlisberger played a solid game, but was under far too much pressure for a 39-year-old QB to tolerate.  While “Big” Ben leads the NFL in time of release, it’s become a mechanism to keep him alive more than anything else.  The Steelers brought in RB Najee Harris to supposedly reestablish their rushing attack and provide cover for Roethlisberger, but ineffective run blocking has rendered Harris ordinary, although he’s shown flashes of brilliance befitting his draft position.

    The Bengals are undergoing a renaissance of sorts, as their offensive success has fueled playoff speculation, and their young roster is hopeful to improve further with a couple more solid drafts.  QB Joe Burrow has quietly risen through the ranks of the NFL’s QB landscape to become one of the more positively-viewed (dare we say elite?) players at the position, and with adequate protection, he’ll remain a threat in the AFC for some time to come.  His prodigious receiving weapons – WR Ja’Marr Chase, WR Tee Higgins, TE C.J. Uzomah, among others – will only improve with him, which should be a frightening prospect to defensive coordinators everywhere.

    And so two teams with few current similarities will meet Sunday.  The Steelers at minimum are hoping for a full return of their injured defensive personnel, most notably Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt, although recovering S Minkah Fitzpatrick (COVID-19) may be more crucial to their chances this week.  It wouldn’t hurt to get CB Joe Haden back either, as the Bengals will surely test the Steelers secondary often.  The Steelers will do as well as their offensive line allows, whose success or failure is anyone’s guess.  The Bengals sport a solid defense at every level, so the Steelers will simply have to rely on better play…an elusive concept in Pittsburgh this year.

    Steelers 16, Bengals 30

     

    Cleveland Browns (6-5) @ Baltimore Ravens (7-4)
    Sunday, November 28, 8:20 pm, NBC

    Despite the tumultuous week in Cleveland and the suddenly-adversarial relationship between Browns QB Baker Mayfield and the local fanbase, the Browns, at 6-5, remain within striking distance of the divisional lead.  Part of this is due to the volatility of the AFC North itself, where two games separate the entire division, but part of it is because of opportune moments.  Mayfield has provided few of them lately and has been on the receiving end of fan ire, although it should be noted he’s playing through some significant injuries, which – and I’m sure this is part of Mayfield’s angst – normally earns support from fans, who nominally deem such actions heroic and inspiring.  Not so with Mayfield, who seems to have elicited the opposite out of fans, who would be happy to see him bench himself if only for his own health and long-term prospects in the NFL.  I suspect he will bench himself and undergo season-ending surgery on his non-throwing shoulder in the event the Browns fall out of playoff contention.  Until then, Browns fans will have no choice but to tolerate the highs and lows, and hope the team procures a proverbial seat at the playoff table.

    The Ravens continue to walk a very thin tightrope this season, having squeaked by the hapless Chicago Bears last week on the strength of backup QB Tyler Huntley’s improbable last-minute TD drive.  Starting QB Lamar Jackson (illness) is expected to return this week, but the Ravens have to be somewhat happy knowing Huntley can perform adequately if Jackson can’t go.  Like Pittsburgh, the Ravens have significant QB protection issues, so Jackson’s success will be predicated on his ability to avoid uber-pass rushing DE Myles Garrett, who should face little resistance in any one-on-one matchup the Ravens present.

    The Browns and Ravens both have notable defensive issues to consider.  The Browns secondary has been inconsistent outside of solid CB play this season; FA S John Johnson has been underwhelming and out of position for many of the longer plays the Browns have surrendered.  The Ravens can’t even count on solid CB play, as top CB Marlon Humphrey has done little to maintain his reputation, although it should be noted he can’t be everywhere.  Some help is needed out of the remaining CBs, who have done little of note this season besides sustaining injuries.

    This game will come down to the success of each team’s formidable rushing attack, although I would give the edge to the Browns in that regard.  RB Nick Chubb is expected to be at full strength, and he may be joined by injured fill-in RB Kareem Hunt, whose return from injury would be a huge boost to the Browns’ chances.  Assuming he plays, the Ravens will again rely on the exploits of the unpredictable Jackson, whose presence is usually enough to alter defensive game plans.  This one may go down to the wire, as most Ravens games do.

    Browns 24, Ravens 30

     

    Happy Thanksgiving!

     

    Go Team.

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    Ravenous128

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