AFC North Week 12 Preview

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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.


Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Thursday, November 26, 8:20 pm, NBC

Kudos to the Steelers for securing the AFC North for the 2020 season.  While it’s still technically possible for this to change, the state of the division and most notably the former division champion Ravens all indicate how small that possibility is.

The Ravens are in a well-documented free-fall in which injuries, malaise, and a general sense of futility have infected the team, and the stilted remains of the roster are hard-pressed to produce a complete, four-quarter effort.  Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is a shell of the plucky, nearly-unstoppable rushing force we witnessed just a year ago, and the Ravens’ offense has suffered greatly for that decline, posting some of the worst passing numbers the franchise has witnessed.  The Ravens’ once-formidable RB trio of Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards has been reduced to Edwards and seldom-used special teamer Justice Hill for Thursday’s game due to COVID-19 protocols (more on this below).  The most accomplished WR on the Ravens’ roster is veteran Dez Bryant, which isn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds.

Defensively, the Ravens will struggle to contain the Steelers’ multi-layered passing attack; with Baltimore producing little push up the middle, Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger should be able to operate easily in a comfortable pocket, enabling WRs Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson to secure clean releases and exploit the Ravens’ frequent use of zone coverage.  While the Baltimore secondary remains one of the lesser hit by injury, it has been robbed of depth, and the Steelers will surely try to exploit that deficiency by throwing often.

The Steelers should have little trouble containing Jackson and the shambling leftovers currently comprising the Ravens’ offense.  Look for Pittsburgh to do what every team has done to contain Jackson – spread the field, commit to area coverage closer to the line of scrimmage and force Jackson to throw the football.  The odds are quite good he won’t make anyone pay.

Author’s note:  Given multiple positive COVID-19 tests that will sideline several Ravens for this game, one wonders why the NFL is not moving this game to Sunday, at minimum, to identify future cases and to limit possible spread to the Pittsburgh locker room and beyond.  The NFL has shown little consistency or consideration in this regard, and it’s tough to not view this as a classic workplace safety violation with potentially deadly, if not career-altering consequences, all to garner prime-time ratings on a national holiday.  Poor show, Mr. Goodell and company.  Considering recovering players have begun to register lingering effects from COVID-19, the repercussions of this form of greed could alter the face of the NFL for the worst if not carefully reconsidered.

EffIrsay: Ravens 16, Steelers 24
Me: Ravens 10, Steelers 35


New York Giants @ Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, November 29, 1:00 pm, FOX

I have to express honest condolences for the few remaining Bengals fans; the loss of wunderkind rookie QB Joe Burrow to injury has extracted every bit of joy from this season fans could’ve experienced.  Instead, the Bengals will be forced to watch the QB specter of Brandon Allen or Ryan Finley, neither of which will remind anyone of Burrow (or any NFL starter, for that matter).  Look for a scaled-back, basic offensive game plan centered around running the football for Cincinnati; against this particular Giants team, it might just work, even in the absence of starting RB Joe Mixon.

The Bengals will most likely deploy a basic defensive set to begin the game and adjust accordingly as it progresses.  The Giants aren’t loaded with superlative weapons any more than the Bengals currently are, so even an average defensive effort should be enough to stifle them.

EffIrsay: Giants 17, Bengals 10
Me: Giants 16, Bengals 20


Cleveland Browns @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Sunday, November 29, 1:00 pm, CBS

The Jaguars are (unofficially) undergoing another rebuild, which seems to happen every other year or so in Jacksonville.  The Browns, conversely, appear to be coalescing at the right time.  The Browns haven’t been 7-3 this late in a season since…a long time ago, and it’s been well-earned, even with some suspect defense and erratic protection for QB Baker Mayfield.  Look for the Browns to continue their low-risk approach by employing RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt a lot, if only to chew up minutes and move the game more swiftly to its inevitable conclusion.

As mentioned, the Browns have had little success defensively, but this game offers chances to work on schemes/techniques and tune up for more serious opponents, especially in light of a likely, looming playoff appearance.  There’s no one area for the Browns to attack; any will do, although the presence of QB Mike Glennon, making his first start since 2017, is an obvious Jacksonville weakness.  This one could get ugly quickly if the Browns hold it together.

EffIrsay: Browns 21, Jaguars 17
Me: Browns 28, Jaguars 6


See ya’ll there.



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