AFC North Week 14 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.


Dallas Cowboys @ Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, December 13, 1:00 pm, FOX

With five wins between them, this could be the week’s “Sour Lemon Bowl”, which is the week’s worst game from a quality perspective.  Whatever it’s called, it sure won’t be representative of defensive football.  The Cowboys remain dead last in almost every defensive category, while the Bengals are in the lower half of the NFL at #20.  Neither team is particularly great offensively either, as both lost their starting QBs for the season, rendering all other attempts at offensive prowess a bit lacking.

With that optimistic appraisal established, one can reasonably expect Dallas QB Andy Dalton to exact some revenge against his former club.  He has a few weapons to work with in RB Ezekiel Elliott and WRs CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, so it’s a pretty safe bet the Cowboys will generate some points.  If they can show a semblance of respectable defensive, this would appear to be a lock for Dallas, but having the worst defense in the NFL in decades really doesn’t translate into many wins.  If the Bengals are truly motivated, they’ll run the ball 50 or more times, because Dallas is almost guaranteed to not slow them down.

McDermott/Beane 2020:  Cowboys 16, Bengals 13
Me:  Cowboys 24, Bengals 17


Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills
Sunday, December 13, 8:20 pm, NBC

In direct contract to the game above, this is among the best matchups the AFC currently has to offer, as both teams are motivated and determined.  Buffalo appears well on their way to winning their first division title in decades, while the Steelers are trying to shore up their exposed weaknesses in the wake of their first loss.

There’s some real similarities offensively between these teams, which starts with excellent QB play and disappointing rushing attacks. Bills starting QB Josh Allen is in the midst of his best season as a pro, posting MVP-caliber numbers thus far and aided substantially by WR Stefon Diggs, which is exactly why the Bills traded multiple picks to the Vikings for him last offseason.  Diggs and fellow WR Cole Beasley have provided Allen with weapons, something the Bills have been woefully short of until recently.

The Steelers will again trot out 38-year old QB Ben Roethlisberger, who’s posted some impressive numbers of his own this season, but his drawbacks are starting to become a little more pronounced with age, primarily his deep-ball arm strength and accuracy.  In an effort to shield him from contact, the Steelers’ game plan typically calls for short drops and quick releases from Roethlisberger, who’s done his part consistently enough, but his receivers have been problematic of late, registering seven drops in their latest loss, most of which were easily catchable passes.  Neither team has a dependable rushing attack, as the Bills have been let down by presumed feature back Devin Singletary, and the Steelers have been reduced to starting longtime swingman James Connor, whose injury issues have derailed the Steelers more than once since the departure of Le’Veon Bell – the last true feature back the Steelers employed.

Defensively, the Steelers hold an obvious advantage, as they currently possess the #1 defense in the NFL, while the Bills trend #18 overall.  I would expect the Bills to do what most clubs do against Pittsburgh – deploy at least five defensive backs for the entire game and largely ignore the run.  Sometimes it’s effective, but given the Steelers 11-1 record, more often it’s not, and I would think the Bills also have to make determinations situationally to compensate for the assorted four-and-five WR packages the Steelers will undoubtedly use.  Also look for short-yardage screens and dumpoffs, employed often by Pittsburgh to compensate for their lack of a cohesive rushing attack.

This one will be hard-fought and close.  Pay attention, as these clubs could possibly meet in the playoffs.

McDermott/Beane 2020:  Steelers 23, Bills 34
Me: Steelers 24. Bills 27


Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns
Monday, December 14, 8:15 pm, ESPN

Every team claims a proverbial “measuring stick” game or two each season.  Usually, this entails a formerly poor team playing a superlative team that’s beaten the crap of them on numerous occasions.  I suppose that describes the Browns in this instance, but things aren’t that simple, for several reasons.

Yes, the Ravens wrecked the Browns week 1 to the tune of a 38-6 victory, in perhaps the only game thus far in which the Ravens resembled the dominating force they flashed last season.  The Browns were not acclimated to new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s schemes at the time, and it showed, sometimes glaringly.  Both teams have gone down decidedly different paths since then, and I wouldn’t expect this game to resemble week 1’s in the slightest.

The Ravens’ fall from divisional glory has been ugly and well-documented.  While their vaunted rushing attack showed signs of excellence against the worst rushing defense in the NFL last week (Dallas), their passing game, already limited, has shown little progress, from the lack of touch and accuracy by QB Lamar Jackson to the obvious shortcomings of an inadequate receiving corps also plagued by injury and COVID-19 restrictions.  The Ravens’ run game cannot be overlooked; when working, it’s the most dangerous collective rushing attack in the NFL, which is why most teams try to limit the run – no small task – and force Jackson to pass.  Expect the Browns to do just that – it’s arguably the Ravens’ biggest obstacle right now, and it’s the foremost reason the Ravens may miss the playoffs after exceptional hype as a possible Super Bowl contender.

Cleveland has found its’ “bell cow” RB in Nick Chubb, who will undoubtedly be called upon to grind out tough, short yards against Baltimore’s recovering defense, and therein lies the real chess match, so to speak.  Chubb and fellow RB Kareem Hunt may split carries to offer a change of pace; either would be effective in setting up play-action passes against a very good Baltimore secondary.  The Browns would be wise to continue their modus operandi and run often; teams that pass too much against the Ravens tend to regret it by the fourth quarter, usually after a few turnovers.  Look for the Browns to also work the ball to WR Jarvis Landry, whose consistent play has been a gigantic asset to QB Baker Mayfield in what’s becoming a “bounce back” year for him.

McDermott/Beane 2020:  Ravens 31, Browns 30
Me:  Ravens 24, Browns 31



See y’all there.




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