Usually a tough division to pick (with the notable exception of the Cleveland Browns for about two decades). This season is no different. One betting site refers to the AFC North as “one hell of a puzzle box for NFL bettors.” Fortunately for you, Red is pretty damn good at puzzle boxes.
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens have traditionally featured a ferocious defense, decent special teams and an offense just good enough to win close games. The Ravens are now an offensive juggernaut. Discount QB Lamar Jackson’s poor in the playoff game against the Chargers who lined up 7 defensive backs at times. LJ is a better passer than anyone knows right now and his legs will keep defenses honest. The additions of RB Mark Ingraham and rookie Justice Hill (Red’s pick for All Rookie Team) will add to a triple headed rushing monster for the Ravens. The Ravens ran more than any team last season and that clock-eating offense only helps what is still a very good defense – now shored up with Earl Thomas. Baltimore shocks a lot of folks going 12-4.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns were Red’s off the dung heap pick to make the playoffs last season and they almost pulled it off despite blowing at least 3 winnable games with questionable play calling and clock management. New Head (and former interim) Coach Freddie Kitchens won’t be making those same mistakes. He has lots of talent to work with in Baker Mayfield, OBJ and Nick Chubb and a decent O-line. Browns are 3-3 before their week 7 bye. They turn season around by beating Pats in Foxboro in week 8. A bit of a sugar high, but they hold on against the Broncos and Bills to be 6-3 and facing the easier part of their schedule. Cleveland is 10-6 and in as a Wild Card.
Cincinnati Bengals – Will not be as bad as expected. But won’t be very good either. They have an easy schedule but not easy enough. Cincinnati is 6-10 and continues league worst streak for lack of playoff wins.
Pittsburgh Stealers – The window is closed. Ben is tired and old and his main weapons are gone. JuJu will still be spectacular but it won’t be enough. The pathetic defense of last season did not get any better (15 takeaways in a division filled with turnover machines). They get drubbed by the Pats in week 1 and it is downhill from there. Pittsburgh brings up the rear at 5-11.