AFC North 2023 Wrapup

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So that’s that.  It’s over.  The End.

The 2023 season concluded in identical fashion to the 2022 season – with the Kansas City Chiefs hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy.  In the run-up, the AFC North registered four winning records and three playoff teams – more than any other NFL division.  The AFC North is littered with year-end awards, and the Ravens managed to make it to the AFC Championship Game before bowing out unceremoniously.

It could’ve been much worse.  Just look at the NFC South for clarification and an ego boost.

Anyway, here’s a look at your team and how they fared.


Baltimore Ravens (13-4, AFCCG loss)

Ravens fans, beware – it may never be this good again.

QB Lamar Jackson garnered his second MVP award, and became more accustomed to new offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s schemes and calls as the season wore on, with his progress on the field amply demonstrating his learning curve.   The Ravens again led the NFL in rushing, averaging 156.5 yards per game despite not having a single rusher come close to 1,000 yards (Jackson’s 821 led the team).  The redesigned WR corp did their level best to assist Jackson, as did his TEs; Jackson posted career highs in every passing category except TDs.  The offensive line, while shaky, discovered its best self in the second half of the season, particularly in pass blocking, where Jackson routinely received more pocket time than any passer in the NFL.

Defensively, this was the best unit the Ravens have deployed since the golden era of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.  The team led the NFL in sacks (60) despite relying on aging veteran free agents to bolster the edges.  The secondary fared very well with the emergence of versatile S Kyle Hamilton and exceptional play from surprising breakout S Geno Stone, who led the NFL in interceptions with 7.  Injuries took their toll, as star CB Marlon Humphrey, among others, struggled to stay on the field consistently, which will be on the minds of the Ravens’ front office as they approach the draft.


Cleveland Browns (11-6, Wild Card loss)

Browns fans are simply hoping for a QB that can play an entire season.  So far, that hasn’t been expensive pickup Deshaun Watson, who appeared in six games before going on season-ending IR with a shoulder issue.

That said, the Browns maintained a top-ranked, physical defense all year, featuring Defensive Player of the Year Myles Garrett at defensive end.  Head coach Kevin Stefanski netted his second Coach of the Year award, due mostly to his deft roster maneuvering through injuries, and his deployment of fourth-starting-QB-due-to-injury (and eventual Comeback Player of the Year) Joe Flacco, who posted numbers reminiscent of his 2012 Super Bowl run in getting the Browns to the playoffs.  Most crippling to the Browns was the loss of uber-RB Nick Chubb to a severe knee injury in Week 2, rendering the team’s rushing attack relatively toothless for the rest of their campaign.

Besides Garrett’s 14 sacks and four forced fumbles, the defense truly shined.  LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah registered 101 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 2 INTs in a breakout year.  The Browns allowed a paltry 164.7 yards per game passing, testament to their excellent secondary and star CBs Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II.


Pittsburgh Steelers (10-7, Wild Card loss)

The 2023 Steelers resembled their 2022 counterparts in many ways.  Most of those ways were not what the team envisioned.

Despite a late-season surge to nab a Wild Card slot, the Steelers were a frustrated – indeed, frustrating – bunch.  2022 draft pickup QB Kenny Pickett didn’t show much progress in his second year and was eventually injured and replaced by backup Mitch Trubisky, who was benched in favor of longtime backup Mason Rudolph – the guy improbably responsible for the season’s final three wins to land a Wild Card spot.  The two-pronged rushing attack of RBs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren was reasonably effective (1,829 combined yards); more than the Steelers offensive line, which is to say…not very effective or consistent.  This is once again expected to be a draft priority for the team.

Defensively, the Steelers were most effective with star LB T.J. Watt (19 sacks, four forced fumbles) on the field.  Watt salvaged the Steelers’ season multiple times with late sacks and key defensive stops, often willing the rest of the defense to conform behind him.  The Steelers as a unit only ranked an uncharacteristic 21st in yards allowed, but their second-half prowess is notable (7.8 points allowed; good for 4th in the NFL).  This is a unit that managed to stick around by keeping scores low, and pulling out late, close victories in the process.  It’s not as easy as it looks.


Cincinnati Bengals (9-8)

The 2023 Bengals are the story of QB Joe Burrow’s injuries and his assorted attempts to come back from / play through them.  Until he simply couldn’t.

The aforementioned Burrow managed to appear in ten games, posting decent numbers, but hardly worthy of the MVP-candidate accolades he’s had attached to him previously.  After battling through a preseason calf injury, Burrow looked tentative and unaggressive for the bulk of his playing time; his season ended with a wrist ligament injury that’s still being debated as pre-existing.  Backup QB Jake Browning did a solid job filling in, propelling the team to a winning record, if falling just short of the playoffs.

The defense was spotty, to be charitable, ultimately falling to 31st in yards allowed, 28th against the rush, and 26th against the pass.  Despite solid years from some of their stars, including Pro Bowl DE Trey Hendrickson (17.5 sacks, three forced fumbles), LB Logan Wilson (135 tackles, 4 INTs) and breakout S Dax Hill (110 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 INTs), this unit was a disappointment.  It’s pretty obvious what the team’s draft focus will be.


It’s my downtime.  I’ll write when I feel like it, dammit.

Until then, enjoy the offseason. Peace and love.




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