Who’s really in the driver’s seat in the AFC North?
There are three teams tied atop the division at 3-2 (Cincinnati, Baltimore and Cleveland), and all have more than enough flaws to compensate for their strengths. Ironically, each of them have scored a total of seven more points than their opponents.
My preseason pick to win the division, the Cincinnati Bengals, is coming off a huge win over the New England Bradys. The reason the Bengals are 3-2 has nothing to do with A.J. Green, Andy Dalton or any other offensive player. They are 10th in the league in rushing yards allowed, 11th in passing yards allowed and have made plenty of big plays.
Now they have to win on the road.
The signature wins against New England, Green Bay and Pittsburgh have all come at home. The two losses were at Chicago and an uninspired loss at Cleveland. This week, they travel to Buffalo to play against the Bills and practice squad quarterback Thad Lewis. A tough road game against Detroit follows and then a winnable game at home against the Jets. That should make them 5-3 at the midway point.
Once Dalton and Green get going, this is going to be a dangerous team. I still have them listed as the favorite to win the division and will finish with a 9-7 or 10-6 record.
Next, we have the Baltimore Ravens — coming off a big win at Miami. The knock I have on the Ravens is the running game has been maddeningly inconsistent. They are rushing for around 77 yards per game and Ray Rice (although he did look good against Miami) is due for a full breakdown. I’ve been wrong before, but 410 touches last year are catching up to him.
And that puts the weight on quarterback Joe Flacco. He reminds me of Troy Aikman from the standpoint that you don’t want him to have to win the game — just not lose it. Be a good game manager, limit mistakes and let the playmakers make the plays.
Unfortunately for Baltimore, I don’t think it’s in Flacco’s DNA. I see them at 8-8 or 9-7 and missing out on the playoffs.
And that leaves us with the Cleveland Browns.
Let me preface this by saying I am not a fan of any one NFL team. I am a fan of good games to watch and interesting storylines to follow.
Up until the season-ending injury to Brian Hoyer, the Browns were becoming an interesting storyline.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
I love their defense and it will allow them to be competitive every week. But I saw enough of Brandon Weeden to know he is not going to lead them to a winning record.
Willis McGahee looks good in spurts, but he’s not a consistent performer.
Weeden, ‘Nuff said.
This team will finish 7-9 at best, more likely they finish 6-10.
As for the Steelers? I don’t know where to start. The best thing about the Steelers being 0-4 has been the jokes being fired around.