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.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts
Sunday, October 18, 1:00 pm, FOX
The Colts were somewhat exposed by the Browns and their wealth of offensive options last week, but the primary culprit appears to be aging QB Phillip Rivers, whose two turnovers accounted for nine Cleveland points – the differential in the game’s final score. The Bengals may not have the firepower offensively that the Browns do, so it’s entirely possible the Colts bounce back and post respectable totals.
Look for the Bengals to employ typical hot routes and easy reads for rookie QB Joe Burrow in an attempt to protect him from being sacked repeatedly for a second straight week. Expect a lot of RB Joe Mixon as well, if only to provide some balance in the game plan. Defensively, the Bengals still lack for personnel, but good defensive scheming allowed them to limit Baltimore’s vaunted offense last week – perhaps they’ll have more success against the haphazard Colts and their predictable, plodding offense.
*Note: Multiple positive COVID-19 tests have been reported at the Colts’ practice facility this morning, so this game is a distinct candidate to be postponed. Stay tuned.
WARisHELL: Bengals 13, Colts 23
Me: Bengals 20, Colts 24
Baltimore Ravens @ Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, October 18, 1:00 pm, CBS
The Ravens, despite coming off a 24-point victory over a divisional rival, are mad. Their gilded offense has been subpar for most of the season, and while they’re winning games, it’s mostly been a nail-biting exercise for coaches and fans alike. Philadelphia currently resembles a team on the edge of the proverbial “rebuilding” precipice; with another few losses, this team might begin dismantling and looking towards the future. Yes, it’s that bad.
The Ravens should, barring further puzzling play-calling from offensive coordinator Greg Roman, return to relying on their running game if only to build a lead and use their best offensive weapons. I suspect many of the passes called last week were a “practice” of sorts for QB Lamar Jackson in a game the Ravens were never in danger of losing; this week may prove no different, as the Eagles have struggled to score points this season regardless of their opponent, and the Ravens are expected to take this one rather easily. Pass away, Lamar.
WARisHELL: Ravens 28, Eagles 17
Me: Ravens 31, Eagles 10
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, October 18, 1:00 pm, CBS
Lest it needs to be said, recent history is not on the Browns’ side in this matchup. In the last 20 years and 40 contests between these franchises, the Browns have won seven games and produced one tie. Surely Browns fans are tired of proclaiming “this is the year”, but…this could be the year. Both teams sport four wins thus far, although it should be noted that the Steelers have yet to play a team with a winning record. This should prove to be a good snapshot of each team’s strengths and weaknesses, with the Browns offense deploying their numerous weapons against the Steelers’ many defensive looks and ability to rush the passer on every down.
The Browns normally lean on their running game, but I suspect they’ll be more reliant on passing against the Steelers, whose weakest defensive area remains their secondary. Offseason improvements to Cleveland’s offensive line should allow QB Baker Mayfield more time to read through his progressions and get the ball to notable wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. The Steelers will most likely remain in their base 3-4 defense for the majority of the game; the Browns’ multi-faceted attack would warrant it.
The Steelers, having uncovered a shiny new offensive option last week in rookie WR Chase Claypool (four TDs), will most likely stick to their passing game as well, although QB Ben Roethlisberger has been struggling with deep passes. Look for the Steelers to concentrate on shorter, high-percentage routes on the perimeter to allow their WRs to create a little space on their own. The Browns should counter by remaining in a nickel package at minimum, often including safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to try to neutralize Pittsburgh’s TEs and larger WRs. This is the game of the week, folks – try to tune in.
WARisHELL: Browns 26, Steelers 32
Me: Browns 31, Steelers 24
See y’all there.