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.
Note: This is a rare bye week for two of the four teams in the AFC North, with both the Browns and Bengals idle this Sunday. Makes for an easy column though.
Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts
Sunday, November 8, 1:00 pm, CBS
The Ravens are undoubtedly anxious to put last weeks’ disappointing loss behind them, but as of this writing, it’s tough to determine exactly which lineup, particularly on defense, they would field. The loss of standout CB Marlon Humphrey to COVID-19 protocols would have been damaging enough, but losing OLBs Matthew Judon and Tyus Bowser, ILBs Malik Harrison, Patrick Queen and L.J. Fort, S DeShon Elliott. and CB Terrell Bonds as well could prove catastrophic. To date, none of those players have tested positive, but their availability for Sunday remains in doubt.
The Colts could be without WR T.Y. Hilton and TE Mo Alie-Cox, both listed as questionable on the latest injury report. The Colts have been shuffling players all season due to COVID-19, so another week of mixing and matching probably won’t impact them as much as it will Baltimore.
Given their roster changes and new faces along the offensive line, expect the Ravens to simplify their attack somewhat to allow QB Lamar Jackson to improvise, which is where he’s traditionally most effective. Whatever his flaws as a passer, Jackson remains the Ravens’ preeminent offensive threat, capable of disrupting opposing defenses by himself with his jaw-dropping athleticism. I suspect we’ll see a majority of rushing plays called for Jackson as well as RBs Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins in a track meet of sorts. It not only will tired out the Colts’ solid defensive front, but it may actually be the Ravens’ best option to score consistently for the remainder of the season, if not Jackson’s career.
Tyrone Whitey: Ravens 27, Colts 20
Me: Ravens 31, Colts 27
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, November 8, 4:25 pm, CBS
Whoo, boy. I’m sure the NFL’s schedule makers saw this as an excellent matchup when the schedule was devised. Needless to say, this shapes up as one of the biggest mismatches the NFL currently has to offer. Dallas has lost their starting and primary backup QBs, three starters on an excellent offensive line, OLB Aldon Smith, RB Ezekiel Elliott (although he may be cleared to play) and several others in an increasingly lost season. Their defense, to be kind, has been putrid in 2020, on par with some of the worst defensive stretches the NFL has ever witnessed. Despite myriad moves to acquire and vet fill-ins and replacements, the Cowboys’ roster looks to be exceedingly challenged against anything but an NCAA squad at this point. If you’ve actually heard of probable starting QB Garrett Gilbert or backup Ben DiNucci prior to this week, congratulations – that puts you light years ahead of the rest of us.
That said, the Steelers should see little resistance on offense. Although the Steelers typically pass much more than run these days, I see this as an excuse to give the offensive line some exercise by having veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger hand the ball to his RBs a lot, which would protect Roethlisberger and open up some passing opportunities should they wish to go that route. Really, it would be a surprise if Roethlisberger even has to suit up for the second half, as this one will most likely be decided by the second quarter.
Tyrone Whitey: Steelers 41, Cowboys 6
Me: Steelers 30, Cowboys 3
See y’all there.